Alliance Party MLA and Department of Employment and Learning Minister (DEL), Stephen Farry, has confirmed his plans to “assess the appropriateness of, and need for” the introduction of a Sharia law compliant student finance system for Northern Ireland.

Those who live by Sharia law, and require a student loan to attend university, are currently less likely to accept their place due to the current set-up of the student finance system. This is because Sharia law states that the paying of interest is prohibited.

In response to a question asked by Sinn Fein MLA, Phil Flanagan, Minister Farry referenced the public consultation launched by the English ‘Department for Innovation Business and Skills’ (BIS) in April 2014, which showed that of the 20,000 respondents, 94% believed Muslim students need an alternative to the current system.

As a result of the BIS consultation, the British Government says that it will begin to “examine what may be required to allow this product to be offered to students through the Student Loans Company. Additionally legislative changes will also be sought and the Government will continue to work with the Islamic finance specialists to refine the Takaful* model into a functioning product.”

It is expected that in England such a system will not become fully operational until the 2016/17 academic year.

In Northern Ireland the student finance system is a devolved matter.

Minister Farry told MLA Phil Flanagan that once the Sharia-compliant system is developed in England, then he will assess the appropriateness of, and need for, a similar product for students from Northern Ireland.

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