Stormont’s First Minister has called for a positive debate on the potential of raising university tuition fees in Northern Ireland.
Arlene Foster said that how universities are funded in the region should be examined when assessing ways to raise further revenue.
Northern Ireland students currently pay up to £4,275 a year to study in the region, less than half the £9,250 maximum paid by students who live in England.
Ms Foster’s comments come amid the rift between the Government and the newly restored executive on the amount of money the Treasury is offering to support the wide-ranging deal to resurrect devolution.
The £1 billion tabled by the Government – part of which is outstanding money from the DUP’s confidence and supply deal with the Conservative Party – is well below the sum ministers anticipated from Whitehall.
Secretary of State Julian Smith has dismissed criticism of the package and suggested the executive look at ways to raise more money in Northern Ireland.
The DUP leader, in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster’s Inside Politics programme, again discounted the possibility of domestic water charges being implemented to help boost the public coffers.
But she hinted a rise in university fees might be considered.
“I don’t see the issue of water rates coming back on to the table again,” she said.
The First Minister added: “These are all policy debates we need to have, but I do think we need to have a look at, for example, at maybe universities and how they’re funded.”
Asked if that meant higher tuition fees, she replied: “Well, can we have that debate in a positive way? Do we need to look at other issues as well? I think we should have those debates. It doesn’t mean we decide very quickly one way or the other but we need to have the debates to find out what is the best way forward.
“Because, you know, government costs money and I think sometimes when people say ‘I want to have all of these things dealt with’, we have to say back to them ‘where are our priorities in all of that, and where is the money coming from and do we need to raise revenue’?
“And if we do need to raise revenue, how are we going to do that and who is it going to impact and so all of these decisions have implications and I am up for having that discussion and looking at all of that.”