At the CBI Northern Ireland regional council meeting at Queen’s University Belfast, business leaders unanimously backed calls to address shortcomings in university funding and to deliver a sustainable long-term funding solution, particularly as employers across Northern Ireland face an unprecedented skills gap.
NI is the only region of the UK that is currently divesting in higher education, leading to over 5,000+ school leavers seeking higher education in Great Britain every year, of which less than one third return. Currently, there are around 13,500 NI students currently studying at universities in GB – around the same number as entire university.
Young people remain NI’s only true natural resource. Exporting 36% of students to universities in England, Scotland and Wales puts NI at a huge competitive disadvantage. By comparison, the Republic of Ireland exports just 3.1% of school leavers to GB.
From a business perspective, universities clearly play a crucial role in addressing the NI skills gap, not only in helping to deliver a steady stream of high skilled local talent but in functioning as a catalyst to attract the very best from around the world. 96% of CBI NI members believing that Northern Ireland is facing a growing skills shortage and 83% have stated that demand for individuals with high skills will increase over the next 3-5 years.
CBI NI Director Angela McGowan said: “One of the reasons we’re so keen to see an end to Brexit negotiations is so we can get back to concentrating on the domestic agenda – one that’s been all too neglected in the past couple of years.
“If we’re serious about building a modern, forward-looking economy here in Northern Ireland then ensuring a sustainable, long-term, funding solution that supports our universities should be top of the list of priorities. Universities aren’t just powerhouses of innovation and skills, they’re major economic players – Queen’s University alone delivers a staggering £1.9 billion a year in economic benefits to the UK.
“We need to make sure that our best and brightest see Northern Ireland as an attractive place to live, work and study. We face a simple but stark choice: invest now in our young people or pay the economic price in the medium and long-term.”