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Brain drain damaging Northern Ireland's economy, warns QUB chief

By Rebecca Black

Published 30/05/2016

Patrick Johnston
Patrick Johnston

Northern Ireland's 'brain drain' will continue to damage the economy here unless Stormont invests enough in higher education, the man in charge of Queen's University has said.

Vice-chancellor Patrick Johnston said 38% of students currently leave Northern Ireland and there are not enough graduates in some sectors to meet demand.

In an interview in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Johnston said the issues cannot be ignored, and he plans to raise them with the new Economy Minister - the DUP's Simon Hamilton - in the coming days.

Queen's University saw its subsidy from Stormont slashed by £8m last year. Mr Johnston said in fact between 2010-2014 it has in real terms seen a 24% cut.

"Northern Ireland then as a result of that lost 2,250 student places - that's over 10% of the total undergraduate student places," he said, adding. "Some 38% of students have to leave Northern Ireland at the age of 18, that's a really serious situation for any society because in particular your most talented people are leaving.

"You do want people to leave and come back, people only come back to where opportunities sit.

"This situation still prevails and has to be addressed if we are going to develop a prosperous economy."

Mr Johnston said Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where Government is not investing in higher education, and also the only region which exports its talent.

He emphasised these issues need to be addressed if Stormont wants to develop a prosperous economy in Northern Ireland, warning that reducing corporation tax would not be enough.

"I think our policy makers and political leaders have now begun to really understand the importance of this, so I am actually hopeful that we will see a resolution of this and will see investment in higher education," he said.

"If we don't we are in trouble - we will not deliver on corporation tax, we will not deliver a prosperous society, we will begin to lose some of the global leaders that sit in Queen's today to other institutions across the UK and in the world that are actually investing."

However, despite this stern warning, Mr Johnston said he is hopeful for the future of higher education in Northern Ireland.

"I think it is a very challenging time, but there is an optimism now that Fresh Start will deliver something different, and certainly I tend to be an optimist and am very hopeful that will be the case," he added.

Since Mr Johnston was appointed vice-chancellor in 2014 he has received some criticism over his £250,000 salary.

However, he told the Belfast Telegraph that there are a lot of myths around his employment benefits and emphasised he has been offered other jobs with much bigger salaries.

"The reality is that my salary is set by a remuneration committee and senate, it is not set by me," he said.

"I have been offered salaries multiple times bigger than the salary I am currently on.

"I don't have a car provided for me - that is a myth - and I pay rent for the house that I live in. I don't get a house free. There are certain myths out there.

"If you actually look at the other leading universities, you'll find my salary is - by a significant country mile - the lowest.

"I don't do this job for the salary."

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