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Educational Programmes: EU Funding

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin 2:15 pm, 22nd November 2016

3. Mr McAleer asked the Minister of Education for an update on the current position on funding beyond 2017 for educational programmes that are currently funded by the European Union. (AQO 717/16-21)

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Some €35·3 million is made available for shared education through Peace IV, covering Northern Ireland and the border region of the Republic of Ireland. That comprises €30 million through the European regional development fund (ERDF) plus €5·3 million from both sides of the border in government matched funding.

Although not yet opened to schools and other educational settings, funding post Brexit for Peace IV is included in the guarantee by Treasury for structural and investment fund programmes signed before the UK leaves the EU. I anticipate that processing applications from programme delivery bodies will be completed by the end of this year, with agreements signed and implementation commencing in 2017. Programme funding will be provided until December 2020 to be spent by 2023.

In relation to the other aspect of European funding that is directly relevant to Northern Ireland — the ERASMUS+ programme — the UK National Agency will continue to manage and deliver the programme across the UK, and all participants and beneficiaries should continue with their ERASMUS+ funded activities and preparations for the published application deadlines in 2017. The UK Minister of State for universities, Jo Johnson MP, has stated that the EU referendum result does not affect students studying in the EU, beneficiaries of ERASMUS+ or those considering application in 2017 and that the UK’s future access to the ERASMUS+ programme will be determined as part of the wider discussions that the UK Government will be having with the EU. More broadly, existing UK students studying in the EU and those looking to start in the next academic year will continue to be subject to the current arrangements.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his answer. Has he spoken to the British Treasury or sought any assurances for replacement funding for projects that may lose out as result of the vote on exit from the EU?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Directly speaking, this issue is part of the wider picture that the Executive are raising. We have received a level of assurance on Peace IV funding. Look at ERASMUS+, for example: the vast bulk of ERASMUS+ falls under the Department for the Economy, and the schools element of it is relatively small. It is an issue that was discussed on Friday at the North/South Ministerial Council. I do not want to spoil anybody's appetite for the full briefing on that. There will be a statement on that at a later stage, so I will not go further than that. However, I have spoken directly to my opposite number at the Department of Education and Skills.

[Interruption.]

Maybe that has happened — obviously, the Deputy Speaker is more prescient in these things than I am — but it has also been raised in bilaterals between me and the Education and Skills Minister in the Republic of Ireland. On the education side of things, the direct impact in Northern Ireland will be fairly minimal.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the Minister consider commissioning a report on the benefits of EU funding for young people in Northern Ireland, if only at least to be prepared, should Brexit continue, to bid for any money to replace it?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I tell the honourable Member that that boat is already sailing, because the UK as a whole has voted to leave. There is work for the overall Executive to do. I will not compartmentalise that. I mentioned ERASMUS+: there is around €5 million from that. Off the top of my head, around €500,000 is going directly to schools. I am also conscious that Ministers should not sail off in their own direction with individual studies, and I am not sure that, if we were to spend a reasonable amount of money doing a study on something that, from an educational point of view, amounts to a relatively small amount of money, it would be good value for money. In the overall picture, we need the Executive to be cognisant of the need to ensure that the difficulties and benefits of Brexit are examined, and we need to harness the maximum potential while trying to protect as much as is possible those who are directly impacted on by it. That is a wider Executive responsibility, however, rather than specifically a Department of Education one.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Brexit is now blamed for every negative in society, so I suspect that the next thing that it will be blamed for is the weather. What will the impact of Brexit be on education in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I travelled through the Member's constituency briefly on Thursday en route to a school in Strabane and when heading back. It was a very wet day. To be fair, nobody at that stage blamed Brexit, but that may yet happen.

The Member asked about the overall impact of Brexit. As I indicated, this is probably where my Department's levels of responsibility compared with other bodies are relevant. The Department of Education covers up to 18 — up to 19 for those with special needs — so more of the direct impact will hit, for good or ill, the Department for the Economy, for instance. There is minimal cost impact. As indicated, provision has been made in Peace IV funding, and the direct impact on schools and on, for example, the ERASMUS+ project that has been put in place is relatively minimal. As I said, the value of programmes was a little over €500,000. There are other things that have been mentioned in the House in which there can be ongoing cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, irrespective of the EU and Brexit, such as the Middletown centre. Those are things that, from the point of view of linkages in the Department of Education, are not dependent on membership of the EU and will be utterly unaffected by Brexit.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy Deputy Speaker

I call Mr Edwin Poots for a question. There may not be time for a supplementary question.