Fears of job losses as Northern Ireland grapples with funding gap

A union has warned of “massive” job loses in Northern Ireland’s universities unless politicians work out how to avoid a 30 per cent cut in the devolved administration’s higher education budget.

July 29, 2011

Unite has also cautioned that if Northern Irish universities do not raise fees for English students they could see an influx of applicants from the country which could have an “adverse impact” on local students.

Mike Robinson, national officer for education at the union, said that “senior management in universities are already talking of massive job cuts”.

Unite has warned that at the University of Ulster £6 million is to be cut from the pay bill over the next four years.

“This will have a drastic impact on the employment levels,” Mr Robinson warned. “Substantial job losses are a real possibility.”

Northern Ireland’s two universities, Queens University Belfast and Ulster, are facing a 30 per cent funding cut by 2014-15, and there has so far been no political agreement on how to plug the funding gap.

Earlier this month, the first minister and deputy first minister assured students in Northern Ireland that tuition fees, currently set at £3,375, would only rise with inflation.

However, there has not yet been any decision on how much they will have to pay if they choose to study in the rest of the UK, or how much students from the rest of the UK will have to pay if they want to go to Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland is caught between the assembly government resisting the introduction of student fees of up to £9,000-a-year, from the current £3,375, [and] local politicians unwilling to properly fund higher education, unlike their devolved counterparts in Scotland and Wales,” Unite said.

It is calling for additional funds from the devolved administration’s education budget.

The union warned that if fees were left at £3,375 for English students, “Northern Ireland will become the educational centre of choice for students from England, thereby making competition keener for university places, with an adverse impact on Northern Ireland students.”

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

Update: 29 July

A University of Ulster spokesman said: “The university sector in Northern Ireland understands that in a time of enormous pressures on the public purse, efficiency savings have to be made – and in Northern Ireland the sector has been asked to make £28m in savings over the four-year budget period. “At the University of Ulster, one implication of that budget cut translates to savings in staff costs of approximately £6m over the period – £1.5m per year.”

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