Mr Dickson said: “I am appalled and concerned the Economy Minister has decided to go ahead with these changes to student finance, with tuition fees set to rise by 1.8 per cent and an increase in funding in the form of loans.
“It is ultimately a statement about increasing student debt, not supporting students, and is incredibly short-sighted in its anticipation and the enduring inequality it will create. Undoubtedly, students from poorer backgrounds will be disproportionately affected.
“The cost of living crisis, compounded by the pandemic, has sadly put students in a critical position. The price of food, rent and energy continues to soar, and with no meaningful support in sight, this will put students at serious risk of dropping out if they are not provided with targeted and urgent support.
“It’s time for the Minister to step up and deliver. No one should be forced to choose between feeding themselves and continuing their education.
“While a rise in support in some regard is welcome, I am alarmed by the Minister's lack of regard for current students. Even with an increase in maintenance loans, the rise will not kick into effect until this time next year. Ultimately, it begs the question, what is the Minister doing to protect and support students get through this winter?
“I am calling on the Minister to urgently deliver a financial support package that will include increases to student maintenance grants, hardship funds, and better inclusion of students in the overall cost-of-living support measures.
“If immediate action to protect students is not taken now, and importantly before the potential breakdown of the Executive next week, there could be long-term damaging effects not just on our students, but also on our economy.”