Universities 'contribute £1.5bn'
Cuts to higher education in Northern Ireland threaten universities' £1.5 billion contribution to the economy, campaigners have claimed.
Some 17,000 education and training places could go as a result of cutbacks, the Department for Employment and Learning has revealed.
It means that 1,500 jobs are at risk across further and higher education and the civil service.
Chief executive of Universities UK Nicola Dandridge said: "It is clear that universities are making an increasingly significant contribution to the UK economy, both in terms of contribution to GDP and creating jobs.
"Universities are also magnets for attracting significant investment from overseas. Investment in higher education is crucial to the continued success of all nations of the UK - both economically and socially - and these reports are a timely reminder to politicians and policymakers in both Westminster and Stormont of the enormous impact universities have on local communities, jobs and the wider economy."
Reports into the economic impact of Queen's, the University of Ulster and the Open University were launched at Westminster.
Professor Patrick Johnston, vice-chancellor of Queen's University Belfast, said: "It is a widely held view among Northern Ireland's politicians and business community that higher education is a critical component in levering economic success. Northern Ireland has the second fastest growing regional knowledge economy in the UK and higher education is central to this achievement.
"Today's Universities UK report provides clear evidence to support this view."
Higher education is worth £1.5 billion to the economy, generates over 18,000 jobs, connects Northern Ireland to the wider world, and makes an invaluable contribution to civic society, the report said.
Professor Johnston added: "It is therefore very disappointing that the Northern Ireland Executive has taken the decision to cut significantly the higher education budget.
"This budget cut undermines our ability to provide a world-class educational experience that is focused on the needs of society, will reduce student places in Northern Ireland and increase the brain drain, stem the supply of high-quality graduates and discourage foreign direct investment."
University of Ulster vice chancellor Professor Sir Richard Barnett said graduates give local companies the edge in global markets.