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What are the choices ahead for Northern Ireland's young people post A-level?


Over 20,000 young people across Northern Ireland are now facing a choice on whether they want to enter third level education

Over 20,000 young people across Northern Ireland are now facing a choice on whether they want to enter third level education

Over 20,000 young people across Northern Ireland are now facing a choice on whether they want to enter third level education

There are over 20,000 young people in Northern Ireland now making a choice on a pathway that will influence their future lifestyle, where they will live, their standards of living and their quality of life: decisions which, once made, will have lifelong consequences.

What type of qualification should they aim to complete?

The decision-making pattern has changed. Choosing a career subject must take account of the available options and the ability of the potential student (and their family) to afford the costs.

Even with student loans and any living cost grants, university fees and living costs away from home are part of the equation.

Do the three universities offering courses in Northern Ireland offer a sensibly selective range of courses that relate to local needs?

A review of university fees, which differ from those in Great Britain, is overdue. So also would be a review of the range of courses and specialisms.

Student choice in the search for third level education or career enhancement is now more varied.

The best academic students are well advised to seek a place in the highest achieving university departments.

However, that framework is not exclusive for many others for whom professional qualifications do not always mean narrowly defined academic abilities.

Professional careers may emerge from vocational specialisms and, increasingly, third level education is opening up diverse pathways.

Fifty years ago the academic treadmill carried young students (like this author) into university with no fees payable by the student and with a non-repayable student grant that allowed a modest (live at home) lifestyle.

With hindsight, that makes today's repayable student loans seem very restrictive. It was a generous system but, in practice, it operated to encourage students to remain close to home.

The attractive, even compelling, feature of third level education today is that more students have diverse interests and are prepared to study away from home.

Student loans do not seem to be a deterrent.

There is a number of policy issues which emerge in a review of how third level education and training is being delivered.

First, there might, with advantage, be clearer advice to potential students on the wider and more diverse ways in which to acquire qualifications.

Second, there is a major UK-wide issue on policy in relation to fees and loans.

As a local variant of the fees question, there is a need for a clearer policy on fees and loans for Northern Ireland-based students.

Third level education and professional qualifications can be found in universities and also in numerous alternative institutions.

Mechanisms by which students can be financed are diverse, ranging from conventional higher level fees to advanced apprenticeships which may offer modest earnings.

For Northern Ireland students there are decisions to be made on university fees and the range or balance in professional training.

There is a recurring suggestion that Northern Ireland third level institutions should gear provision to the expected numbers needed in different occupations.

Frequently, arguments are made that too many potential teachers are being trained. In reply, is it persuasive to be told that across the UK and Ireland there are many teacher vacancies?

Qualified teachers should be expected to be individually mobile.

Local policy-makers need to consider the logic of university fees in NI being charged at about half the level in England.

Are fees in NI lower to keep students at home?

If so, the policy is not working very effectively.

Are fees lower to widen the appeal to students from lower income households?

If so, a means test allocation system for fees would be better targeted.

Students considering their future options have more diverse routes to a qualification.

However, it would be timely if an independent review could assess and prioritise what we expect from the local universities and how they are financed.

Company report: McAvoy Group Ltd

The McAvoy Group specialises in the construction of permanent off-site modular buildings and the hire and sale of modular portable buildings.

The main shareholders are the McAvoy family and the senior director is Orla Corr, who plays an active role in the group’s management.  

Trading results in the last reported year to October 2018 show a sharp reduction in turnover and an operating loss.  

The group says that this was a result of delays in making progress with opportunities that had been identified, impacted by Brexit and political uncertainty.  

The outlook for 2019 is for a return to its vision for 2020.   Projects in the education sector are ‘in contract’ and there is an anticipation of success in the health and residential sectors.

The level of capital investment continued at a higher level and this was linked to creating the operational capacity to deliver longer term growth.  

To finance the business, the bank overdraft rose in the last year by £2m to reach £5.6m.

Employment in the group continued to increase. Average employment in 2018 rose to 217 people.  

Over recent years the balance sheet value of shareholders’ funds had been steadily increasing.

In October 2018 shareholders’ funds fell by 17% to £8.6m.  

The group made a dividend payment to shareholders of £165,000.

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