Education cuts 'will badly hit economy'
The head of Northern Ireland's largest university is expected to warn of "catastrophic economic consequences" for the future if severe cuts in education are to continue.
Speaking to students, parents and staff at a graduation ceremony in the University of Ulster's Coleraine campus today, vice-chancellor Richard Barnett was due to highlight the need for investment in eduction amid concerns over an annual education budget cut of £40m a year.
During the speech he was expected to tell his audience that "investment in education is an obligation that we have for the next generation".
"Northern Ireland would be disinvesting when almost every other country is investing. And in four years or so one in five, or perhaps even one in four, seats in this hall where the graduation class of 2011 are sitting today would be empty," he is expected to say.
The University of Ulster is now facing cuts of around 22%, amounting to around £11.5m per year due to the substantial drop in the Department of Employment and Learning's budget.
Mr Barnett believes the Executive must try to plug the £40m deficit by finding money from elsewhere, by increasing fees to between £4,500 and £5,000 a year or by cutting the number of higher education places by as much as a quarter.
This comes after the Belfast Telegraph reported the joint concerns of Mr Barnett and Queen's University vice-chancellor Peter Gregson earlier this month.
The pair then warned of their fears that overseas investors would be turned away if the quality of university graduates diminished.
These views have also been echoed by the employers organisation, CBI Northern Ireland which has reiterated the increasing concerns of both vice-chancellors today.
Chairman Terence Brannigan said: "A skilled, qualified workforce is the foundation of economic growth. Businesses in Northern Ireland rely on universities for research, innovation, workforce training and graduate talent."
He added that a failure to act on higher education funding could significantly undermine future economic development here.