Student loan protest at Stormont

Image caption, Pat Ramsey accepted the petition signed by 10,000 people

Students have handed over an SDLP-led petition to Stormont MLAs in protest at plans to make graduates repay loans earlier and at a higher rate of interest.

MLA Pat Ramsey, the SDLP's learning and employment spokesman, accepted the petition.

It was signed by nearly 10,000 people from across Northern Ireland.

Mr Ramsey said the plans would rule out university for many.

"Student loans are supposed to allow graduates to get their foot on the career ladder and be earning a reasonable sum of £15,000 before they start paying it back," he said.

"Even then, the point is to allow the young professional to repay at a modest interest rate, in theory, allowing them to make career and life plans without the burden of huge debt hanging over them."

Mr Ramsey said the SDLP position reflected the opinion of almost a quarter of a million students across Northern Ireland.

Any party

"We are a devolved government and we have the final say on the increase of fees and the SDLP will be saying no," he said.

National Union of Students President Ciarnan Helferty said the link-up with the SDLP was based purely on the party's stand on tuition fees.

"We'll link up with any political party or representative on the side of students and their families. Any party that is willing, we will stand by it," he said.

He said students would not "let any party mortgage off the future of young people".

The petition is set to be formally handed to the speaker before the assembly debates the plan.

MLAs are expected to debate the future of the student loans system at about 1630 GMT on Monday.

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