Religion is recorded only for Northern Ireland-domiciled students at Northern Ireland higher education institutions. A table giving the breakdown of religion by campus has been placed in the Assembly Library. However, the information is incomplete, because the question is not compulsory and, on average, 26% of students have not responded.
I have not really got an answer. I understand that tables are available, and I have seen a reply from the University of Ulster’s Magee campus. The religious breakdown in that university shows that a very small proportion of the students are from the Protestant community. There is a chill factor in universities for Protestant students, and I want to know what the Minister intends to do to encourage more young Protestant students to take up third-level education in Northern Ireland.
As I have already said, the accuracy of the tables cannot be guaranteed because it is not a compulsory question. However, I have to say that religion is not a factor in the universities’ admissions procedure. Under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, universities have a duty to ensure equality of opportunity and a neutral environment.
Does the Minister agree that the idea of a chill factor for Protestants in Northern Ireland universities is greatly exaggerated, and that there has been a considerable increase in the number of Protestant students from grammar schools throughout Northern Ireland attending Queen’s University of Belfast and the University of Ulster?
I do not disagree with the Member. Like him, I have to go by the tables, and it is difficult to have accurate information. However, I do not believe that there is a chill factor in Queen’s University.