Higher Education Green Paper

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 Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance 2:30 pm, 9th February 2016

T3. Mr Lunn asked the Minister for Employment and Learning for his assessment of the implications for Northern Ireland from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) higher education Green Paper. (AQT 3463/11-16)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I thank the Member for the question. It is another example of where policy has been set by the UK Department to meet, on the surface, the needs of England but where there are various spillover effects on what happens in the other jurisdictions. In higher education, we are seeing a major divergence of policy between England, on the one hand, and the three devolved Administrations, on the other. In England, they are going for a very much deregulated system. They have fee levels of £9,000, with the potential to go beyond that. They are opening up their market to all sorts of providers, including some very small ones. They are trying to put in place a new teaching excellence framework that will allow judgements to be made over what can be funded or not, which perhaps does not really address the needs of what happens in Northern Ireland. There is some potential threat towards the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). On the surface, that is a funding council for England, but it performs some research functions for the entire UK and its existence is under threat.

There are also some positive things happening around the widening participation agenda, where England has some very positive lessons to learn from Northern Ireland.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. What action is he taking to represent the interests of Northern Ireland and the local universities in that process?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

First of all, in Northern Ireland, my Department has coordinated a response from all our higher education institutions (HEIs), to which we made our views known as part of the formal consultation exercise. The three devolved Ministers have also had discussions on how we can formulate a common approach to trying to address some of the issues, particularly those with the greatest impact through spillover issues. I have spoken already to Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities in BIS. In the very near future, I expect that the three devolved Ministers will sit down with him to have a quadrilateral discussion on those issues.