Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, answered Members’ questions on Monday 10 February 2014. Sammy Wilson asked the Minister about the level of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK. After Mr Farry confirmed that the levels in Northern Ireland are the highest in the UK, Mr Wilson expressed his concern that this has been a persistent problem even during times of economic boom. The Minister agreed that this “has been a major long term issue” but contended that credit should be given to the Executive for recognising the problem and attempting to tackle it head on. There will soon be a 12 week consultation exercise on proposals brought forward in a cross-departmental strategic framework document and there will be a series of competitive pilots in which the community will be encouraged to come forward with innovative projects aimed at unearthing the best way to address the situation.
During the regular oral question period the Minister also provided answers on apprenticeships, the Further Education Means Business Strategy and the options available to people with learning disabilities upon leaving school at 16.
Question Time concluded with 15 minutes of topical questions. Lord Morrow asked the Minister for any developments on the proposed merger of QUB and Stranmillis College and Sandra Overend asked for the criteria required to teach in certain educational environments to be looked at. Jim Allister also asked the Minister for details on the cost to the Executive of educating students from the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland’s further education colleges.