Robin Swann MLA, the Ulster Unionist Party Chair of Stormont’s Employment and Learning committee, has said that the proposed cuts to further and higher education in the draft Budget for 2015/16 calls into question the sincerity of the Executive’s commitment to put the economy at the heart of the Programme for Government.
Mr Swann said:
“It has long been the policy of the Ulster Unionist Party that there should be one, joined up Department for the Economy. What we have at the moment is the Department for Employment and Learning facing a reduction in funding, yet the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment is being promised an uplift in its budget for next year. So we have a DETI agency, namely Invest NI, making grant commitments for big job announcements, yet at the same time the local universities and colleges, funded by the Department for Employment and Learning, are facing quite drastic cuts.
If we cut further and higher education, how are we to produce the highly skilled workforce we need if we are to take advantage of foreign direct investment, and the anticipated expansion of the private sector? It just does not make sense. It is not joined up government.
“I welcome the statements from the Pro Vice Chancellors of Queens and the University of Ulster, and the Colleges, which should stimulate a lot of debate about where we are going with regards to skills and employability in our workforce. The DEL committee will want to be part of this debate over the draft Budget. Above all we must do all we can to discourage a brain drain of our young people out of Northern Ireland.”