University to slash student numbers
A Northern Ireland university is to cut student numbers by 1,200 and staff by 210 due to a funding crisis it has blamed squarely on the region's political leaders.
Announcing the consequences of the "dire" financial position Ulster University (UU) finds itself in, the institution accused the Stormont Executive of "robbing" young people of opportunities to enter higher education.
Acting vice-chancellor Alastair Adair outlined the proposed cuts to staff in the university's four campuses today.
"This is not a message I would want to convey but it is a message that the university has to face," he said after briefing colleagues.
"It's a direct result of the budget cuts and there has to be flowing from this a really mature debate among Northern Ireland politicians regarding the funding of higher education in the province because the implications of this are dire."
He added: "The fundamental message is the Northern Ireland Executive is dis-investing in our young people, it's robbing them of the opportunity for skills and what you will see is an export of our young people to other parts of the UK."
UU has seen its annual recurrent budget cut from £89 million in the 2010/11 academic year to a projected £70.7 million for this coming year.
And the 2015/16 allocation, which is £5 million down on the spend in 2014/15, is merely a best case scenario as it is based on an overall Stormont spending plan that has not yet accounted for a £600 million black hole in the power-sharing administration's finances.
Mr Adair highlighted that UU's current teaching spend per student was around £1,700 less than the average for English universities.
The UU had already announced that it would be taking in 250 fewer students this September. Today it detailed further cuts to student places which will reduce the current 13,100 population of full-time students by 1,200 within three years.
Northern Ireland's other main university, Queen's in Belfast, is cutting its intake by around 290 in September due to budget pressures.
Commenting on the impact of the reduced intake across the two universities, Mr Adair said: "We will be exporting in the order of 500 students, many of whom will never come back to Northern Ireland. And that is a great brain drain and that will be an impediment to economic development."
In terms of staff, Ulster University hopes it can shed the proposed 210 jobs from its 2,800 workforce through voluntary redundancies.
Another consequence of the cuts will see UU review what courses it runs in future, with a number likely to be axed by the start of the 2016/17 academic year.
Professor Deirdre Heenan, UU's pro-vice-chancellor of communication and provost for the Coleraine and Magee campuses, warned of the consequences of courses being shed.
"The reality is in the future Northern Ireland will be a wasteland for certain areas and certain courses that won't be provided," she said.
Mr Adair noted that many programmes designed to engage with disadvantaged communities will also have to be sacrificed.
"What these cuts are doing is actually promoting inequality," he said.
"That's the outcome of the Northern Ireland Executive cuts - that inequality in society will be reinforced, it won't be lessened."