Belfast Telegraph

Gates keen for lessons about our education

By Heather McGarrigle

One of the world’s richest men is looking for help from Northern Ireland.

Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey revealed that billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates has invited him to a special dinner event tonight at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, renowned for its charitable work.

Sir Reg is in New York this week to promote Northern Ireland interests ahead of the US NI economic conference next month.

He told Business Telegraph: “I know Bill and Melinda are very concerned that education in the US is poor at college level, with a high percentage of drop outs. They feel there is insufficient provision at further and higher education level.”

The minister believes the Gates may wish to use Northern Ireland success in this sector as a model for the US.

“We shouldn’t always assume we’re going over to America with the begging bowl in hand. The fact is, Northern Ireland has high levels of people from challenging backgrounds participating in higher education — 41% — which is the highest in the UK.”

He paid tribute to initiatives like the Step Up scheme, run by the University of Ulster to enable young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access science learning opportunities.

Last night, he attended the Wall Street 50 — 2010 event, organised by Irish America magazine.

Speaking before the event, the Minister had high hopes the evening would facilitate useful connections.

He said: “This is a celebration of Irish American businessmen and women, recognising innovation and commitment to local communities. These are people who have sympathy and understanding for Northern Ireland; we haven’t been as successful at tapping in to that as the Republic of Ireland have.”

Former US President Bill Clinton is expected to visit here this month.

Mr Empey said: “It is likely Mr Clinton will visit briefly towards the end of the month as a warm-up for the conference on October 19. I don’t know exactly when, but imagine it would be around September 29 or 30.”

Belfast Telegraph