English student may sue NI Executive over tuition fees

Queen's University Abel Middlebrough has won a place at Queen's University

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An English teenager is considering suing the NI Executive, claiming that its plan to charge him higher tuition fees would breach his human rights.

Fees for students from Northern Ireland are to be frozen at £3,500 but students from elsewhere in the UK will be charged up to £9,000 from next year.

Abel Middlebrough has won a place at Queen's University in Belfast which he has deferred until 2012.

The executive told the Sunday Times its legal position was "robust".

Mr Middlebrough, who is from Worcestershire, would be one of a small minority of students from the rest of the UK studying at a Northern Ireland campus.

He has long-standing links with his father having studied at university in Northern Ireland while, during the war, his grandfather worked on flying boats on Lough Erne.

Legitimate expectation

He said: "It wasn't the nicest thing considering that I had a legitimate expectation that it would be about £3,500.

"Once I had signed up to the UCAs agreement, I didn't realise they could suddenly change how much I had to pay without me being able to change - either to go this year or to choose another university."

Adrianne Peltz, president of the main students' union in Northern Ireland, said she believed the executive had been forced into the two-tier system because of the decision to allow increased fees in England and Wales.

"This is a protective measure to prevent what we are calling the fees refugees from flooding Northern Ireland," the NUS-USI president said.

"We are already the region with the highest demand for university places but with the lowest amount of places.

"We turn away thousands of students every year. It would be absolutely diabolical if there were no places for our own Northern Ireland students."

Mr Middlebrough said he is still in talks with his lawyer, who is understood to be taking a similar case against the Scottish government.

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