College closures floated in Ulster

February 10, 1995

Ulster's further education colleges - already reduced from 24 to 17 after a series of mergers - should be cut again, a report from the province's economic council has urged.

The report on Northern Ireland's education system also put a question mark over the wisdom of proceeding with the University of Ulster's planned campus at Springvale in West Belfast.

In terms of priorities, improving further education is at least as important as expansion, it said. There was "considerable overlap" in provision of vocational courses between schools and colleges despite unmet need for vocational courses from the long-term unemployed, special-needs students and women. There was also overlap in non-degree higher education between UU and FE colleges.

The standard of accommodation offered by many colleges and the lack of an "adult" atmosphere could put off prospective students and employers, it warned. But there was evidence that students were prepared to travel to attend high-quality FE courses and to undertake distance learning.

"In the light of these factors, the council feels that some consideration should be given to the continued existence of such a large number of college sites. Any resources saved by possible reduction and from the sale of redundant land should be applied to improving the infrastructure of the remaining colleges.

The council also said it was unclear whether the economic and social needs of an area like West Belfast would be best served by the Springvale proposal. Already about 70 per cent of university places are in the Belfast area while the highest population increases are in the north-west. Other forms of education might be more appropriate.

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