In a joint letter addressed to the Northern Ireland secretary, four universities expressed their concern over the potential reduction in student numbers if their funding from Stormont is diminished.
According to the letter, slashing undergraduate positions would have a “fundamental and perilous impact” on the future of Northern Ireland. The Department for the Economy (DfE) intends to decrease its funding to universities as part of cost-saving measures.
The recently published consultation on the 2023-24 budget reveals that the Department for the Economy (DfE) plans to reduce the teaching grant to universities in Northern Ireland by 10%, leading to estimated savings of around £14 million.
Additionally, there are plans to reduce funding to further education (FE) colleges by 4%, resulting in savings of approximately £9 million. While officials have considered the option of increasing tuition fees to generate funds, such a decision would require approval from a Stormont minister and a legislative change.
The number of available undergraduate positions for Northern Ireland students is directly influenced by the funding allocated to universities by the Department for the Economy (DfE).
Queen’s University, the Open University, St Mary’s University College, and Stranmillis University College collectively penned a joint letter to Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, expressing concerns about the potentially devastating impact.
According to the letter, approximately 5,000 Northern Irish students choose to pursue their studies in other parts of the UK each year, with only a third of them returning after completing their education.
The joint letter emphasized that such a situation not only inflicts devastating consequences on families but also poses immediate and tangible risks to the economy.
Furthermore, the higher education (HE) sector in Northern Ireland has experienced a significant 40% reduction in funding since 2011, while other regions and jurisdictions have received substantial investments.
In the event of anticipated budget reductions, the universities’ only viable course of action to safeguard sustainability would be to reduce the number of undergraduate positions.
“The proposed funding reductions will undoubtedly worsen disparities in higher education provision and have a negative impact. It is crucial to note that this approach will further impede our economic recovery.”
Previously, both Queen’s University and Ulster University stated their requirement for an additional 5,000 spots for Northern Ireland undergraduates by 2030, citing the projected increase in the population of 18 and 19-year-olds.
In light of this, the joint letter addressed to Mr. Heaton-Harris emphasized that reductions in funding and student numbers would “pose a fundamental and precarious impact on our future.”
The joint letter also highlighted that numerous university staff are presently engaged in industrial action concerning pay and working conditions.
As a result of this action, which includes a marking boycott, over 1,000 final-year students at Queen’s University are facing uncertainty regarding the timely awarding of their degrees this summer.
Source : bbc.com