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Universities: International Students

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 25th October 2016.

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Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP 2:45 pm, 25th October 2016

I thank the Member for his question. Our broad education sector, of which universities are a key part, has huge potential as an exporting sector. We do not automatically think of education as an export sector compared with health and life sciences, agri-foods or other parts of the manufacturing sector, but I believe that it is in several ways, not least because of the quality and high standard of the education system in Northern Ireland. As for attracting students, as I mentioned in my initial response, and attracting academic talent, we have a university system in which over 70% of university research activity is rated as internationally excellent or world-leading. That helps to attract students and academics here. The fact that 71% of graduates in Northern Ireland achieve a first-class degree or a 2:1 sends a good signal to potential students. We also have high-quality education and training in Northern Ireland, which can be sold — for want of a better word — outside Northern Ireland.

When I was in the Middle East recently, I had an opportunity to visit Dubai Healthcare City, which has a partnership between Queen's University and the Dubai Government. It is a fantastic opportunity for us to take our expertise there and work in partnership with the Government in the United Arab Emirates. There is huge potential for universities. I know that Ulster University is also engaged in similar aspects.

I think that there is also potential with boarding schools. There are some very high-quality boarding schools in Northern Ireland that are competitively positioned against their competition in, say, Great Britain.

There are several ways, including those that I mentioned, in which education can, with a bit of nurturing, help and support, become a really important export industry for Northern Ireland.