Northern Ireland news

Sectarian segregation and lack of political stability 'key' reasons behind 'brain drain' says think tank

New research has found that educational migration out of Northern Ireland is about escaping local problems as much as pursuing opportunities elsewhere
Marie Louise McConville

TALENTED young people are leaving Northern Ireland because of "unresolved local issues" including ongoing segregation, community relations and age-old political debates, according to new research.

Carried out by think tank Pivotal, the new research found that educational migration out of the north is about escaping local problems as much as pursuing opportunities elsewhere .

The ongoing effects of sectarian segregation and a lack of political stability and maturity at Stormont are key reasons why so many high-achieving young people leave after school and never come back.

It was found that while young people find broader university options and better short and long-term job prospects available elsewhere, the poor state of community relations in the north does as much to drive them away as the promise of varied studies and higher potential wages do to lure them elsewhere.

Based on the research findings, Pivotal has made a number of recommendations.

These include calling on the Stormont Executive to develop a strategy to address the loss and make it a key priority for policy makers.

It also calls on people, as a society, to acknowledge the impact of its poor community relations and for the Executive to demonstrate that it is working collectively to move Northern Ireland forward.

Furthermore, the think tank also recommends a full review of the funding for higher education in the north, with a view to providing sufficient places for an appropriate range of courses across the universities.

Ann Watt, Director of Pivotal, said what was most "striking" about the research was that "young people do not just leave because they think they have more university choices or better economic prospects elsewhere.

"They also choose to study elsewhere because of community divisions and sectarianism in Northern Ireland," she said.

"Moreover, young people leave because they think politicians and political debate in Northern Ireland do not represent them and do not share their views on the most important political issues".

Ms Watt said the "lack of action" around economic migration "needs to change".

"Building a thriving economy that is more attractive, and offers better and higher-paying jobs, is not something that can be done overnight," she said.

"Gradual reductions in economic migration should go hand in hand with a healthier job market. Nor is there a silver bullet for fixing community relations in Northern Ireland.

"However, better political leadership would go a long way to both improving those relations and also changing how Northern Ireland talks about itself – as a place that is looking forward, and wanting to make the best for itself and all its people in the rapidly-changing modern world, rather than somewhere that cannot get beyond binary sectarianism or arguments about the past".

She added: "Reducing economic migration by addressing some of these concerns would be transformative for Northern Ireland".

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