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Explanatory Memorandum to Higher Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2005

Commentary on Articles

Part 11 – Student Fees in Higher Education
Imposition of conditions as to fees

14.Article 4 gives the Department power to impose conditions under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1993 and the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 so that when making grants to the higher education institutions it imposes the following condition:

  • For institutions with an approved plan, the condition is that the fees payable do not exceed the amounts specified in the plan, and also that the institution complies with the rest of the plan. The fees set out in the plan may not exceed the fee cap set by regulations, referred to in the legislation as 'the higher amount'.

  • For institutions without an approved plan, the condition is that fees do not exceed the 'basic amount' (equivalent to the present standard fee) which will also be specified in regulations.

15.The condition must set out that, for institutions with an approved plan, if the fee limit in the plan is exceeded; the Department is to impose financial sanctions relating to the institution's grant, unless fees exceed the higher amount. In that case, in addition to any sanction imposed, the Department may impose further sanctions, the principles governing which will be set in regulations. In addition, where the conditions of the plan other than those relating to fee levels are breached, the Department may also impose financial requirements.

16.Similarly, the Department may impose sanctions on any institution without an approved plan which charges fees higher than the basic amount.

17.Article 4 (7) covers the exclusion of international students from the provisions limiting fees.

18.Article 4 (8) provides that the basic and higher amounts are to be prescribed by regulations made by the Department.

19.Article 4 (9) places restrictions on the Department’s power to discriminate between certain classes of courses in prescribing descriptions of courses covered by these sections, and disapplying some elements of previous Orders with respect to these sections.

20.Article 4 (10) provides that the first regulations setting the basic and higher amounts must be laid in draft and approved by a resolution of the Assembly. The same procedure will apply to any further regulations increasing the basic amount by more than is needed to keep up with inflation.

21.Article 4 (11) also provides that once the first set of regulations setting a higher amount have been made, that amount cannot be raised in real terms until 2nd January 2010 at the earliest. After that date, regulations raising the higher amount in real terms can only be made once a resolution has been passed in the Assembly that the amount should be raised to a specified level.

22.Article 5 makes a transitional provision which prevents fees above the basic amount being charged for students receiving offers of a place in 2005, whether for immediate entry or for deferred entry in 2006, or for students unable to accept a place in sufficient time because of the delay caused by a successful appeal against A-level results affecting entry to higher education.

Plans authorising fees of more than the basic amount

23.Before higher fees can be charged by higher education institutions, a plan will have to be approved by the Department. The Department has the power to make regulations setting out what must be contained in these plans. The plan will have to make clear what the maximum fee charged for each course will be.

24.Article 6 makes provision about the contents of plans. It sets out that plans must specify, or provide for the determination of, a fee limit for each qualifying course. Plans must also include any provisions relating to the promotion of equality of opportunity which are required by regulations.

25.Article 6 (4) (a) allows regulations to require institutions to include in their plans provision for outreach measures. These are measures, such as the provision of summer schools or work with schools and colleges, which are designed to widen participation by attracting students who might otherwise not consider entering higher education at all or not consider applying to particular institutions. The reference to under-represented groups in the provision is not intended to have a strict statistical interpretation.

26.Examples are given in Article 6 (4) of other matters which regulations may require to be included in the plans, such as requiring financial assistance to be provided to students or requiring the institution to set out its own objectives. Article 6 (5) makes clear that regulations may not require plans to contain measures referring to particular courses or the manner in which they are taught or relating to admissions criteria.

27.Article 7 provides that the relevant authority must exercise its functions in accordance with regulations which may, in particular, specify what the relevant authority must, or may not, have regard to in approving a plan. Regulations under this section may also require institutions to publish their plans. The Department may issue guidance to institutions.

28.Article 8 enables regulations to set out the maximum period a plan can be in force, and enables plans to be varied with the approval of the relevant authority. Plans must specify the period during which they are to be in force.

29.Article 9 provides that the Department may, if an institution breaches the conditions of its plan, impose financial sanctions relating to the grant to the institution, or refuse to renew the plan for a specified length of time. The Department may not apply such a sanction if an institution can demonstrate that it has done all it reasonably could to comply with the provisions of its plan.

30.The Department may make regulations setting out the nature of the financial penalties that may apply, and the procedures for using these sanctions.

31.Article 10 provides that regulations about the approval of plans, variation of plans, or imposing sanctions, must include provision for a mechanism for review of the Department’s decisions on those matters.

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