Belfast Telegraph

Have your say in third level review

By Stephen Farry

Our higher education providers drive our knowledge economy by equipping people with the higher level skills which companies need to grow. These skills have made Northern Ireland the leading UK region apart from London for attracting inward investment.

As well as the benefits to the economy, higher education is one of the surest ways for people, regardless of their background, to improve their life chances and employment prospects.

Individuals equipped with a degree-level qualification are significantly more likely to secure a job than those without.

And more students from Northern Ireland from lower socio-economic classification groups are reaping these rewards than any other part of the UK.

But the financial sustainability of our higher education system has come under pressure. Under our existing funding system, our universities' main source of income comes through grants from my department.

Recently, in the context of public spending constraints, the value of these grants has decreased. We are the only UK region disinvesting in higher education.

As a consequence our two universities, Queen's and Ulster, are admitting more than 500 fewer local students to undergraduate programmes this year and that will rise to about 2,000 over the next few years.

More students will likely choose to study instead in other parts of the UK and more than two-thirds of those who leave do not return.

More regrettably still, others will be prevented from entering higher education at all and the evidence suggests that people from disadvantaged backgrounds will be affected most of all.

Countries and regions approach higher education in very different ways, with different combinations of public and individual financing. Now it is our turn to find our own unique solution. That is why I ask as many as possible to take part in stage two of the Big Conversation and have your say about our higher education system.

My department is utilising Citizen Space, a user-friendly digital hub, to ascertain your views on higher education funding and to submit your responses online. Visit

  • Stephen Farry is Employment and Learning Minister

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