Question Time: Employment and Learning Tuesday 24 June 2014

Will Northern Ireland get it’s own veterinary school at the University of Ulster? That was one of the questions asked of the Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, during today’s question time. The University has applied to the Department for Employment and Learning for the appropriate funding to establish a veterinary school and is currently putting together an economic appraisal to support the project. The Minister assured that the appraisal will receive an objective analysis but advised that they will have to weigh the expenditure against other objectives that the Department may have. The Minister was unable to give any commitment on how the proposal may advance and was also keen to stress that the cost of training a vet (around £78,000) is more than most other professions – a key consideration for future decisions.

Following the earlier announcement of the new Northern Ireland strategy on apprenticeships, Jonathan Craig took the opportunity to ask the Minister what action he will be taking to encourage the uptake of apprenticeships in Further Education colleges. Mr Farry said that the Department supports the cost of the off-the-job training provided by FE colleges and offers financial incentives to employers once the apprentice has completed the ApprenticeshipsNI programme. He added that the new strategy also proposes “the introduction of a central service to promote and support apprenticeship provision for employers and participants that will advertise centrally apprenticeship vacancies and provide a matching service between employers and prospective apprentices.  The central service will signpost employers to approved providers of off-the-job training, including further education colleges.”

Mr Farry also answered questions on the financial effects of Welfare Reform penalties on his department, the security of B/E Aerospace jobs in Kilkeel, funding for the Magee campus of UUJ and the importance of night classes for working people. During topical questions the Minister also discussed the sale of property owned by Belfast Metropolitan College, DEL assistance for people who need re-skilled following redundancy and the slowly improving unemployment rate.

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