Question Time: Employment and Learning 01 December 2014

Roy Beggs asked Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry, what impact the 2015/16 departmental budget reduction will have on Further Education colleges during today’s Question Time. With the news of a 10.8% reduction in budget, the Minister conceded that “there will undoubtedly be a detrimental impact on Further Education colleges”. Departmental officials are working with the colleges to consider the most efficient ways to reduce spending. The Minister warned that the cut could result in 500 fewer staff and 16,000 fewer student enrolments. Mr Farry did assure that his Department “will strive to mitigate against the worst impact of these cuts however it is clear that even core front line services will be affected”. When Mr Beggs pressed the Minister on whether he could ensure provision in areas where the service is already stretched, the Minister said that “at this stage it is very difficult to give any guarantees because we’re still bottoming out with the colleges and how they are going to approach this”.

The budget cuts will also have a negative impact on the local economy as a result of possible cuts in undergraduate places at Queen’s University and the University of Ulster. These institutions bring high-level skilled graduates into our economy but the cuts will “have a very significant and unavoidable impact on our higher education institutions affecting their capacity to provide the high level skills and qualifications necessary to grow our economy”. The Minister conceded that this will also affect Invest NI’s potential to attract foreign investment to Northern Ireland. He will be working hard to find a way to compensate for the budget cuts but ultimately feels that “we need a more responsible approach across the board in terms of how we set the budget in Northern Ireland. We have to understand that our universities are an investment in the future”.

During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on the possible abolition of the Department for Employment and Learning, the redevelopment of Belfast Metropolitan College’s Montgomery Road campus and efforts to attract European funding for those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs).

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