University Finance: Further Cuts

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 pm, 9th February 2016

T1. Mr McKinney asked the Minister for Employment and Learning, returning to the issue of university finance, to outline the extent to which Ulster University and Queen’s will face further cuts under the proposed Budget. (AQT 3461/11-16)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I thank the Member for his question. We are still working through the figures from the Budget at this stage on exactly what is going to happen with the teaching and research grant for the universities in the forthcoming financial and academic years. At this stage, not least because we have had the additional £20 million that is due to be forthcoming and allocated officially for skills to the new Department for the Economy in the June monitoring round, we should be in the position where we can avoid any further cuts to the teaching and research grant on the road ahead. However, I caution the Assembly and, indeed, stress to the Member that the cuts from the 2015-16 financial year of £16 million to higher education are still in the system. We have seen only the first third of those implemented on September 2015 entry. As things stand, those are still in the system for September 2016 and September 2017 entry. There may be some scope to mitigate them to a small extent, but, as things stand, the vast bulk are set to go ahead. So, by no means are we out of the woods yet. Even if we were at a standstill, we would have to be investing further in our higher education because we have to ensure that we are meeting the needs of a high-skilled economy.

Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party

While, of course, the focus is on that strategic level and the headline finance, my further focus is on the students themselves — the customers, if you like. Can the Minister give an assurance that grants, especially for those from a vulnerable and poor background, will not be cut?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

Yes, I am happy to give that assurance. The House will well know that, right across the piece, we have been ensuring that the student support system has remained in place, despite all the tribulations that we have had with budgets in recent years. Some, of course, are demand-led interventions, and sometimes we may not spend our full budget allocation, but the levels of entitlement and the amount of money available as part of those entitlements have not been affected.