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Colleges set to slash 17,000 new places for students in Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black

More than 17,000 education and training places may be axed next year under proposals to meet some of the toughest cuts Stormont has ever seen.

It emerged last month that the Queen's University and Ulster University were considering cutting 1,100 places to cope with a 10% reduction in funding from Stormont.

Yesterday it was revealed that 16,000 places for 16-19-year-olds in further education will be cut if the draft budget proposals are approved. In addition, 1,500 jobs are at risk: 650 in higher education, 500 in further education and 400 civil servants.

DEL minister Stephen Farry has been asked to make £82m savings (10.8%) from its annual spending for next year.

NUS-USI President Rebecca Hall said the ramifications for students and for further and higher education "could be catastrophic".

She said the proposed cuts could significantly damage young people's career prospects as well as the economy.

The proposed plans for further education came just 24 hours after it emerged that the Department of Education may have to lay off 2,500 teachers and support workers to realise necessary savings, according to the department's draft budget.

Education Minister John O'Dowd has been ordered to plan for £198m of cuts.

Gerry Murphy of the Irish National Teachers Organisation warned his members may take industrial action if the cuts are voted through.

Mr O'Dowd said the education system would end up not being delivered as it was originally planned.

Schools received letters warning them about the forthcoming job cuts earlier this week.

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education has been told its allocation will be cut by one sixth, from £665,000 this year to £565,000 next year.

The Catholic Council for Maintained Schools has seen its funding cut, and spoke yesterday of "grave concerns" about the cuts, and said if implemented they will "place the provision of basic education in jeopardy".

Mr O'Dowd said the job loss numbers were "conservative" and said there would be even more job losses over the next four years.

"We are facing a budget which is going to cause major disruption to education across the board," he said. "This year's budget is the worst yet, it is predicted that 2016/17 and 2017/18 are going to be worse again so of course there is going to be more jobs losses, unless there is a change in either the Westminster government or the economic direction of the Westminster government."

Story so far

The Department of Education's finance chief Trevor Connolly revealed to the Stormont committee on Wednesday that 1,000 teachers and 1,500 non-teaching posts must be cut by April to make the savings demanded by the draft budget.

The budget plans are currently out for consultation and will be voted on by Stormont in January.

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