More than half the children educated in Northern Ireland’s schools are Catholic, figures have revealed.
Catholic pupils now account for 51% of places while Protestants make up 37% . The other 12% are pupils of other Christian denominations, non-Christian, no religion and whose religion has not been disclosed.
It comes after TUV leader Jim Allister yesterday claimed that the province’s universities were “failing to attract young Protestants” because of a “chill factor”.
However, statistics from both the Departments of Education and Employment and Learning show that the percentage of Protestant pupils attending university reflects demographics.
There are now 43,000 more Catholic pupils in our schools — from nursery to sixth form — than Protestants.
Dr Peter Shirlow, an academic from Queen’s University Belfast, said the percentage of Catholics and Protestants attending our universities reflected “the share of what the population is”.
Demographics indicate that in the age group (18-21) of people attending university, the religious breakdown would be 55% Catholic and 45% Protestant.
Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show that of Northern Ireland students attending university, 35% are Protestants, 49% are Catholics and 16% are others.
“According to the census, Protestants are much more likely not to state their religion than Catholics so it’s not a case of universities being a cold house for Protestant communities,” explained Dr Shirlow.
Commenting on the figures that Mr Allister cited, he added: “The argument being made is not completely accurate. Around one-fifth of students do not state their religion, so 20% of the data is missing.”
Statistics also show that just 17% of pupils from controlled secondary schools achieve at least two A-levels, which are mandatory for entrance to university, compared to 33% of pupils from Catholic. That is a ratio of 1:2.
A spokesman for University of Ulster said: “Access to the |universities are based on performance at A-level and if students meet the entrance criteria, it is not based on religion.”
In March, a damning report ‘Educational Underachievement and the Protestant Working Class’ also revealed that a socially disadvantaged Protestant in a controlled school has a one-in-10 chance of attending university compared to a one-in-five chance for a similar Catholic pupil in a maintained school.
Data has also revealed that while more Protestants (45%) study in GB universities compared to Catholics (41%), the figures are almost neck-in-neck, which the academic attributed to a tradition of people from high socio-economic classes — regardless of religion — attending GB universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and institutions which offer courses not available in Northern Ireland.
Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry, whose department oversees higher education, said: “Universities are open and accessible to all within our society.
“I am committed to widening participation in higher education and Northern Ireland has the best record in the UK in terms of access for all students, especially those from low income backgrounds. I am determined to maintain that position.
“It is important to look at the statistics in the round — it is incorrect to say that only one-third of students in higher education are Protestant — it is closer to 40%. Chill factors within education and training provision are something that I would not tolerate.”