Friday, 17 June 2011

Tuition feeble decision not taken

ONE of the advantages of a mandatory coalition – and yes we are assured there is at least one - is that one does not need to rush to a conclusion.

One of the disadvantages of a mandatory coalition – and yes we are aware there are many - is that eventually one must come to some sort of a conclusion.

The Alliance Party may have been delighted to get in on the big act with a seat by right at the top table, but soon Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry, might find it is the hot seat.

The reason became all too clear at this week’s oral Assembly questions, when Dolores Kelly asked about student tuition fees. For those with memory loss, over the past year there have been quite a few protests about student tuition fees; with the majority of students thinking an increase is pretty much a bad idea!

For Dr Farry there is a confluence of factors rolling together: a need to make a decision being the first factor!

Then there is the fact that a decision must be taken by September so that the loans can be sorted out for the following academic year.

After that there is the not inconsiderable task of shaping third level education to meet the employment needs of both international and local employers – not to mention the academics who live by the axiom of publish or die when it comes to tenure!

Next is the fact that our two universities are bleating about the cuts they are being forced to make as it is, without the problems that may ensue if they do not get either more money from higher fees or more money from the Executive.

And finally, Dr Farry will have to get all his new found Executive chums to agree to whatever decision is made by “September at the latest”.

We have a cunning plan: one which will help Dr Farry and his Executive chums in the long run. First – any degree that includes the words “dance” or “fashion” go immediately.

Next: any degrees in journalism – out! Politics? Seriously? Only for those not studying what passes for politics here! Agriculture? That’s a college course. And Art! No, no, no! If you can colour in between the lines award yourself an ‘A’ level and don’t even think about an art degree. There, they’d saved a wee fortune right off.

But seriously – yes we can be serious for a minute or two – Dr Farry must steer the middle ground between recommending a sensible fee structure that still enables a wide range of students access to degree courses, while maintaining the integrity and teaching standards befitting our universities.

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