Mid Ulster Unionists clash over tuition fees

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A LOCAL Assembly member has defended her vote on University tuition fees, refuting claims that her stance on the issue has changed in recent months.

Mid Ulster MLA Sandra Overend voted with her party in attempting to block Universities in Northern Ireland charging students from the rest of the UK £9,000 as opposed to the maximum charge of £3,500 for local students.

The other parties in Stormont defeated the UUP and TUV challenge at last week’s meeting of the Education committee but fellow Mid Ulster MLA Ian McCrea challenged Mrs Overend on what exactly her position is on local tuition fees.

Mrs Overend said her vote in relation to whether students from England, Scotland and Wales should be charged more than those from Northern Ireland and the rest of the EU was quite clear in its rationale.

She said: “It’s un-British; we are meant to be a nation of equals yet the DUP are willing to charge Scottish, Welsh and English students almost three times as much as students coming from the Republic, or any other European State.

“NI already receives an additional subvention of over £7.5bn from Westminster every year. One has to question the wisdom of introducing discriminatory rules for our fellow UK citizens whilst holding the door open for everyone else.

“The argument that this rule had to be passed to protect NI students was mistaken as there is always going to be huge demand on NI University places as less students from NI will be heading across the water.”

DUP MLA Ian McCrea has accused Mrs Overend of changing her stance and removing a statement from the party website which saw her welcome the fees freeze in September this year.

“The people of Northern Ireland, but particularly those in Mid Ulster deserve to know exactly what level of fees Sandra Overend believes should be paid by students here,” said Mr McCrea. “On September 9 the Ulster Unionist website carried a statement from Mrs Overend where she not only welcomed the Executive’s decision to freeze fees, but actually stated she was ‘delighted’ by it.”

Mrs Overend remained adamant her position on tuition fees has not changed and told the Mail the statement has simply not been uploaded to the new party website, along with many other statements.