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Education is worth much more to us than just money

These days, everything seems to be about money. It's all about making cuts, business practices and business-speak. Whatever happened to simply making something work for all the people involved, instead of turning everything into a business venture?

I am worried about the number of politicians, universities and colleges that look at education as simply a business and view their students as clients or consumers.

Learning must not be viewed simply as a means to gaining employment. While this is a very important reason behind studying, it is not the be-all and end-all.

It is worrying when people try to make the education system totally economy-driven. What can often happen is that arts and humanities subjects get ditched in favour of business, IT, or STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

The minute we view our education system as simply a workforce factory, is when we lose all our specialisms and diversity.

I don't think that anyone would disagree with the notion that we need to have the courses available to meet the skills needs of companies here and also potential investors. However, to become simply economy-driven would, I believe, massively stifle our creative arts.

Northern Ireland is an area famed for its rich culture and vibrant theatre and music scene.

For those in positions of power to attempt to denigrate and discourage these elements of learning could be disastrous for people here and for our society.

If those in charge of further and higher education make every decision based upon finance and economics, we will be a diminished society. People must not be viewed as statistics. Students are not simply clients.

They are people who enrol to study, but the experience should not send there. Colleges and universities must have a duty of care and support to their students. Let's not take the fun out of learning, let's not take the joy out of studying new subjects. Many people study as a hobby.

It would be disastrous if this section of the student population was to be written off to enable the creation of more business, or STEM subjects.

We need to keep encouraging people to study arts, humanities and languages. We need to continue to promote learning itself as a positive virtue. We need diversity in courses offered to ensure creativity in our society.

I know that many people want to see further and higher education going into the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and, while I can see the merits of this, I would also have concerns that some may want to push a business-like model onto our HE and FE system.

DETI has taken a balanced view and has, I believe, done its best to give consideration to the students themselves, while also ensuring FE and HE meet the needs of business as best they can.

I believe that students, colleges and universities deserve reassurances from the First and deputy First Ministers that, when the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) is abolished, their views will be taken account of as much as they were by DEL.

Decisions as regards departments taken on the basis of political expediency might not deliver the best outcome. I believe that a review of all departments must take place because more ambition must be demonstrated in order to deliver more joined-up, efficient and effective government for everyone.

We need to take a people-centred approach - this applies not only to the review of government departments, but also to how educational institutions operate.

One thing is certain: students will not look favourably on any decision which might see them marginalised, or see colleges and universities becoming businesses, rather than places of learning.