Funding for Northern Ireland universities has been cut by almost half in just 10 years. The consequences will be long-lasting.
Since 2011, funding for tertiary education in Northern Ireland has been reduced by 40 per cent, making us the only region in the UK to have reduced investment in further and higher education. Currently, student fees in Northern Ireland are £4,540 a year, with the NI Executive providing approximately £4,000 per student annually. As graduates, you will be aware of the benefits of a university education, not just in terms of fulfilling your potential or enhancing your employability, but also in meeting new friends and engaging in a wide range of new academic and extra-curricular activities.
Every year, approximately 5,000 talented young people leave Northern Ireland for study outside NI. Fewer than a third return. This educational migration impacts negatively on our local economy, which urgently needs more highly skilled people as it transitions into a knowledge-based economy. With only a modest inflow of students from other parts of the UK, the net loss is significantly more than 25 per cent of our young people. This is an unsustainable position for the NI economy.
Pressures on the Northern Ireland budget lead to a potential reduction in funding for tertiary education. Indeed, the initial planned NI Executive budget for the next three years would result in Queen’s facing a further budget cut of anything between five and 15 per cent. The only way we can respond to such financial pressure and protect the sustainability of the University is to reduce the number of places for NI students at Queen’s – at a rate of approximately 500 for every five per cent reduction in funding. This would have catastrophic consequences for our economy and our young people, particularly those students from widening participation backgrounds, whom we have worked hard to attract and retain (indeed we are ranked first in the Russell Group in this category).
These potential funding reductions come at a time when a demographic change in our population will see the number of 18-year-olds increase by 19 per cent by the year 2030. Our universities in NI will need an extra 5,000 places just to maintain the current levels of provision, which we know are not meeting the demand of our local and international businesses. For example, we are currently advancing new City-Region growth deals across NI that will create many thousands of new, high-value jobs in sectors that will transform the local economy and create growth. A lack of skilled graduates threatens the impact and sustainability of such investment on our economy.
Universities play a significant role in economic development: at Queen’s, we contribute almost £2bn per year to the economy; through research, we drive innovation to ensure our companies are competitive globally; and through education, we deliver the skills that create our talented, young workforce. That is a major selling point for the region, particularly in terms of attracting foreign direct investment and supporting our indigenous businesses. We are an anchor institution focused on enhancing Northern Ireland and our people.
Investing in the future fuels a growing economy that in turn is crucial to the prosperity of Northern Ireland. Investing today – or failing to do so – will be tomorrow’s legacy.
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