Students group in warning over cuts
Northern Ireland's students are in danger of becoming a lost generation if Stormont cuts continue to bite, a representative body has warned.
Ahead of its annual conference today, the NUS-USI, which represents around 200,000 students in the region, expressed concern those in higher and further education were being unfairly targeted by spending reductions introduced by the powersharing Executive in Belfast.
Turning from Stormont to Westminster, the organisation also demanded a reduction in the voting age to 16 so young people being impacted by cuts can influence decisions affecting their lives.
President of the NUS-USI Rebecca Hall said: "This is arguably the first generation that could have worse prospects than their parents. They could have less education opportunities, they have to pay for their HE course, they have worse job prospects, lower pay, higher living costs than their parents. Many in this generation also feel they have to leave Northern Ireland. They could become a lost generation if government does not act to address these deeply damaging issues.
"Government is targeting students and young people for cuts, and this is clearly evident through the devastating scale of the cut imposed upon the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) in the Executive's recent budget, in comparison to many other government departments.
"What makes all this even worse is that many of the people whose lives government are having such a negative impact upon cannot even have a say about it at the ballot box, because they are not 18.
"Further Education is facing a massive reduction in the number of student places due to the cut in the budget, and many FE students are 16 or 17 and cannot have a say on the cuts that will have such a massive impact on their educational lives and future career prospects. The Westminster government must enable people to vote from the age of 16. Sixteen-year-olds pay tax to the government so why should they not have a say on how their taxes are spent?
"Government must consider the medium and long-term impact of their cuts upon those who are now students, as well as on future students.
"How many current students will have to leave their families and leave Northern Ireland to emigrate to actually be able to get a job? How many will be left depending on welfare benefits, due to government's inability to deliver enough jobs, because government cut investment in skills and qualifications? How many graduates will have to work in minimum wage jobs all of their career, because of this too? How many will be left with such massive student debts that they will have to live at home until they are 30, and will never be able to afford to buy a house?
"Government must not be allowed to pile their financial woes onto the backs of students.
"Government must stop targeting students for their cuts, and should instead be investing in the future by investing cash in students and FE and HE institutions. If government does not, it could leave everyone with a very bleak future, from both a student perspective and from the perspective of potential employers."
The conference is being held at the Hilton Hotel in Templepatrick.
One motion being debated is the planned reduction in the number of Stormont departments here - a move that will spell the end of the DEL.
"The new Department for the Economy must make investing in student a key priority, because students are the future of society and the economy," said Ms Hall.
"The voice and views of student must be listened to and acted upon.
"Investing in FE and HE must be central to every element of the work that this department does, because if you don't have the people, qualifications and skills, then you might not even have an economy. Government here must demonstrate that this new department will deliver for students to help build a better future."