Northern Ireland

Conference in Derry discusses tackling underinvestment in higher education in the north west

There were calls for investment in higher education in the north west
There were calls for investment in higher education in the north west There were calls for investment in higher education in the north west

TACKLING the "long-standing underinvestment" in higher education in the north west is "overdue", a conference in Derry has heard.

Calls were made yesterday for the UK and Irish governments and a future Stormont Executive to "work together to enable the entire north west region to develop to its full potential for the benefit of both jurisdictions and the island as a whole".

The Royal Irish Academy (RIA) and John and Pat Hume Foundation joined forces for the conference at the Playhouse in Derry to discuss developing higher education in the area.

Among the issues highlighted was how political and economic factors have contributed to underinvestment in the region as well as the concentration of political, governmental and financial structures in Belfast and Dublin.

The conference also heard that capital investment in further and higher education in Northern Ireland has not yet benefited the north west to the extent that it needs.

Figures show that the distribution of higher education places within Northern Ireland is centred on Belfast where over 70 per cent of university students are concentrated.

This contrasts sharply with figures for other UK capital cities - London 21 per cent; Edinburgh 25 per cent and Cardiff 33 per cent.

Professor John Fitzgerald of Trinity College Dublin and the Economic and Social Research Institute, said more needs to be done to tackle "inadequate provision of third-level places".

"Northern Ireland suffers from a serious shortfall in the human capital of its population," he said.

"Far too many children leave school early.

"While many children from Northern Ireland end up with a third level education, too high a proportion of them end up living in England.

"This drain in vital human capital partly reflects the inadequate provision of third-level places in Northern Ireland, something which an expansion in provision in the north west would help address."

There were also calls for "cross-border planning and operational development to deliver a specific tertiary education planning model for the region".

Professor John Goddard, founder of the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies at Newcastle University, added: "The work of the RIA and Hume Foundation towards building a higher education system across the whole of the island sensitive to the needs and opportunities everywhere is very timely not least in the context of last week’s meeting of European Political Community attended by the British prime minster.

"In the face of global challenges, Europe is at last connecting up previously separate policies for higher education, research and regions.

"In parallel the Westminster government is beginning to recognise the role that universities can contribute to levelling up regions across the nations of the UK.

"Universities across whole the whole island now have the opportunity to shape a new transnational way of working with their local communities to face global challenges like the ongoing impact of Covid, climate change and the war in Ukraine."