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Editorial: Spending on education is investment in the future

Tomorrow's A level results will no doubt be reported in terms of students celebrating their success by smiling for the cameras with beaming teachers and proud parents.

However, while individual achievement is to be both celebrated and congratulated, the results process tends to mask a significant series of problems across our education system.

Although schools and universities are run by two different government departments with little evidence of co-ordinated strategic thinking, they share one thing in common. Both are in severe financial difficulty.

In the Department of Education, schools face a £735 million funding shortfall over the next three years. The total school debt has already reached £87.3 million.

Head teachers have warned that current school budgets make “harrowing reading”, triggering a crisis in some schools.

The Department for the Economy, which is responsible for universities, estimates that it must save about £250m between now and 2025 just to balance their books. In doing so, it has considered a choice between reducing university student numbers or raising university fees.

Either option would significantly damage higher education. Our university student numbers are already capped due to inadequate funding from Stormont. Last year, for example, 17,500 students from here were studying in Britain.

Many of those will never return, which means that although our universities are meant to educate those appropriately qualified, the system actually drives many of them away for life.

However, even studying in Britain is becoming less attractive, because students from here can only access loans and grants which are significantly lower than those available to their English classmates.

Going across the water to university now leaves many of our successful A Level students desperately struggling to meet rising rents and living costs. Access to higher education used to be a matter of academic ability. Now it is a matter of wealth, or the lack of it.

Education and skills spending in Northern Ireland has dropped 14 per cent since 2010/11, which can only mean that there is insufficient government backing for the skills and knowledge base of our young people.

If Stormont does not invest in them, our society and economy face a bleak future.

So while the photographs of smiling students tomorrow will be good to see, they should also serve as a reminder that Stormont continues to be an educational failure.

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