Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, discussed the impact of the closure of the school of modern languages at Ulster University during today’s Question Time. The Minister explained that the closure of the school was the result of budget cuts imposed on the Department. In making the decision on which courses to cut the University considered a number of factors including student demand, attrition rates, student satisfaction, employment statistics and research performance. The Minister revealed that the demand for the course is low while acknowledging the concerns among business and other stakeholders. The Minister did however discuss the potential for the Department to give consideration to the provision of a business language academy through the Assured Skills programme although he tempered this by saying “however, that is dependent on an identified need of a group of employers, where the availability of language skills is impeding the growth of a particular sector.”
The Minister then discussed the progress that has been made on post-19 special educational needs (SEN) provision. The Minister outlined the Department’s commitment to post-19 SEN provision with a range of education, skills and employment provision such as Training for Success, apprenticeships, further and higher education, programmes funded through the European social fund, careers guidance and employment support services. A number of strategic changes have also been implemented to improve support and services. These include the outworking of the review of careers support; the implementation of the new youth training strategy, Generating our Success; the further education strategy; an employment and skills strategy for people with disabilities; the delivery of a wide range of support services under the new European social fund programme; and the new economic inactivity strategy. Mr Farry is confident that “those initiatives will put in place additional and improved provision that young people with learning difficulties or disabilities can access to achieve their education, skills and employment goals.”
During Question Time the Minister also addressed queries on difficulties with the European Social Fund, employee gaps in the construction sector, skilled workers in the manufacturing industry and the Steps 2 Success programme.