Universities state that funding cuts will lead to a decrease in student numbers in Northern Ireland

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If funding from Stormont is reduced, universities in Northern Ireland have indicated that they would need to reduce student numbers.

In a collective letter addressed to the Northern Ireland secretary, four universities raised the concern.

The letter stated that reducing undergraduate positions would have a “profound and concerning impact” on the future of Northern Ireland.

The Department for the Economy (DfE) plans to reduce its funding to universities as a cost-saving measure.

In its recently published consultation on the 2023-24 budget, the Department for the Economy (DfE) outlined its intention to cut the teaching grant to universities in Northern Ireland by 10%, resulting in an estimated saving of around £14 million.

The department is also considering a reduction in funding for further education (FE) colleges by 4%, aiming to save approximately £9 million.

Officials have explored the potential of increasing tuition fees as a means to generate funds, but such a decision would necessitate the involvement of a Stormont minister and a legislative amendment.

The suspension of the assembly and executive at Stormont continues as a result of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) boycott, stemming from its opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The level of funding provided by the Department for the Economy (DfE) directly impacts the availability of undergraduate positions for students from Northern Ireland.

The joint letter, addressed to Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, was sent by Queen’s University, the Open University, St Mary’s University College, and Stranmillis University College, expressing concerns about the potential “devastating effect” of funding cuts.

The letter highlighted that approximately 5,000 Northern Irish students choose to pursue their studies in other parts of the UK each year, with only one-third of them returning following graduation.

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The joint letter emphasized the significant challenges faced by families and the tangible risks posed to the economy.

Additionally, the higher education (HE) sector in Northern Ireland has witnessed a substantial 40% decrease in funding since 2011, in contrast to other regions and jurisdictions benefiting from considerable investments.

In the face of planned budget reductions, the universities’ sole viable measure to ensure sustainability would be to reduce the number of available undergraduate positions.

“Such a decrease in funding will undoubtedly exacerbate inequality in higher education provision and have a detrimental impact. Importantly, this approach will also hinder our economic recovery.”

Source : bbc.com