Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Executive 'needs to reconsider the cuts to education'

By Margaret Canning

The Executive must reconsider cuts to skills and higher education proposed in the draft budget, it has been claimed.

In its new year message, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce said the Executive must focus its attention on the long-term future of the economy.

Exports must also be encouraged, with Northern Ireland having just 1,600 successful exporters - with 60% of exports coming from fewer than 12 firms.

Chief executive Ann McGregor said 2015 was beginning on an optimistic note, thanks to the prospect of the devolution of corporation tax becoming a reality.

But she urged the Executive to avoid implementing draft budget cuts to skills and higher education areas which helped support export development and reduced youth unemployment.

Ms McGregor said: "It is vitally important that budget is allocated to the Department for Employment and Learning to support the development of science, technology engineering and maths (Stem) programmes and retaining the assured skills programme which engages the further education sector to bridge the skills gaps in priority sectors such as IT, advanced engineering and financial services.

"It therefore does not make sense in this context that higher education institutions are facing cuts of around 11% and a potentially 1,100 fewer undergraduate places will be available at the universities next year.

"We urge the Executive to reconsider this element of the budget, especially in light of the recent corporation tax announcement.

"It is important that consideration is given to raising more revenues and improving efficiency and outcomes in service delivery rather than just relying on public expenditure cuts."

Belfast Telegraph