Immediate action is needed from Stormont to stop the “brain drain” of students leaving Northern Ireland, the vice-chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast has said.
Professor Sir Ian Greer has called for an increase in the cap on the number of students higher education institutions in the region can enrol from the island of Ireland and said a “sustainable funding model” is required.
The Stormont powersharing Executive has returned following two years of political deadlock, with ministers urging increased funding from Westminster for services in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy is the economy minister, with responsibility for higher education in Northern Ireland.
Sir Ian urged the returning Executive to make “a long-term investment in young people to achieve a thriving economy”.
He referred to a new report from The London Economic digital newspaper which showed that university income for students in Northern Ireland is 25% less than England.
The research report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found that higher education institutions in England receive approximately £10,220 in net income per student, while it is £7,620 in Northern Ireland – the lowest level in the UK.
Sir Ian said immediate action is needed to prevent the “so-called brain drain”.
He said around 30% of Northern Ireland students go to universities in the rest of the UK, with projections that that will double by 2030.
The vice-chancellor said: “Some of these young people decide to go through choice, but many are leaving because we don’t have enough student places to offer in our universities.
“And with only 30% of those who go away returning, that is an enormous loss of talent to our economy.
“One of the major factors is the Maximum Student Number (MaSN) cap which limits the numbers of students we can enrol from the island of Ireland.
“We believe that the new administration should implement a sustainable funding model for higher education in order to remove this so that more young people can stay and study here.”
Sir Ian added: “We recognise there are many financial challenges facing our politicians and we wish them well in untangling all of the problems that lie ahead and are committed to working with them to address these.
“But we would urge against short-term fixes in relation to the economy – long-term investment in higher education will reap its rewards.
“Providing young people from across our society with necessary skills will ensure they can play a significant role in keeping our economy in an upward trajectory.”
Sir Ian said Queen’s University contributes a value of £3.2 billion a year to the economy.
He added: “We strongly believe that the sector is a wise long-term investment.”
The Department for the Economy has been approached for comment.