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Changes to higher education will impact on local students

Major changes have taken place in higher education in Northern Ireland with funding cuts having a clear impact on courses, student numbers and staffing levels.

Last year Ulster University announced plans to drop more than 50 degree courses, to the considerable dismay of potential undergraduates, teachers and professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Housing in Ireland which expressed disappointment at the decision to axe a successful and long-established housing management degree.

Apart from the adjustments required as a result of budget reduction, there are wider changes taking place in higher education in Northern Ireland.

Queen's University has embarked on a major strategy which will have far-reaching implications for pupils currently working towards their GCSEs and A levels.

This week the ruling senate endorsed a controversial plan to raise entry grades for degree courses to a minimum of an A and two Bs at A level.

Given that around four out of every ten undergraduate courses currently has target grades lower than ABB, it is clear that lifting the threshold for entry could have significant consequences for many young people wishing to study at Queen's.

According to the university, the aim is ``to raise the quality of incoming students'' and of course it is important for a third level institution to seek high standards.

But there is a concern that by raising the bar too high, many bright and able local students will be forced to leave Northern Ireland for degree courses in Britain.

This would have a considerable cost implication, as tuition fees for QUB presently stand at £3,800 per annum compared with an annual levy of £9,000 in England and that is before living and travel expenses.

Many young people may find their options in Northern Ireland greatly reduced by a combination of course cutbacks and increased entry requirements.

However, the alternative path of a degree in England and a debt burden of up to £40,000 is also a deeply unpalatable prospect.

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