12/09/2011 12:44 BST | Updated 12/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Northern Ireland Universities To Keep Tuition Fees Frozen As UK Students Face £9,000 Yearly Rates

Tuition fees for Northern Irish students attending universities in Northern Ireland will remain at £3,465 a year, according to a new fees structure outlined by Stormont.

However, students from the rest of the UK hoping to study in Northern Ireland could face costs of up to £9,000 a year.

Ministers also agreed Northern Irish students will be entitled to apply for a student loan to cover the full amount of tuition fees should they choose to study elsewhere in the UK.

Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry said he would consider an increase on the cap of 25,000 places offered to locals, as the new tuition fee structure was likely to cause more locals to stay in Northern Ireland.

He added: "Tuition fees for students from other parts of the UK will be higher than for our own students, but no higher than what our students would have to pay if studying in England and Wales. We should not be seen as a cheap option."

Stormont’s proposal are similar to those put forward by the Scottish Government to ensure home students are not affected by the increase in fees. Earlier this year, universities outside England were an attractive option for English students looking to find a way around next year's tuition fee rise.

But now students will have nowhere to run from the astronomical fees due to be implemented in September 2012.

A loophole in European Union law means students from EU countries attending UK universities must be treated the same as local applicants.

Student unions have now raised concerns over institutions treating students as money-making opportunities.

National Union of Students President Liam Burns said: "It is vital students coming into Northern Ireland are not treated as cash cows when dealing with cross-border flow and are backed by solid bursaries."

Northern Ireland's two main universities, Queen's and Ulster, have yet to set fee rates for students starting in 2012.