Labour wins but province still loses

May 9, 1997

Northern Ireland can't keep its students. The THES looks at the troubled province in its latest regional spotlight

The Labour Government will end the controversy over incorporation of Northern Ireland's 17 further education institutes and colleges.

But the new administration is already facing a dilemma - and the prospect of imminent redundancies - over the issue. An estimated Pounds 1 million has already been spent on preparing colleges for the shake-up, including Pounds 500,000 on an accountant for each one.

An education spokesman admitted: "What is a new Labour government supposed to do with all these new accountants, when so much money has already been spent on them?" Even before the election, about half of the colleges were not ready to meet the September 1 target date for transfer from the province's five area boards to the Department of Education.

But the likelihood of a Labour victory made a formal delaying announcement unnecessary. The colleges are already facing a period of severe economic restraint with no sign yet that the new Government will increase their resources.

The Association of Principals of Colleges has warned of an overall Pounds 2-million reduction in college budgets in the new year and a further Pounds 1.6-million cut in training budgets.

Chairman Raymond Mullan warned: "For colleges to undertake and deal with additional duties and responsibilities is bad enough, but to meet them with reduced funding is clearly unrealistic."

Such confusion and financial hardship comes against the background of suggestions for increased provision of higher degrees within the province's FE sector.

The new Government has accepted the arguments that hundreds of the province's "brightest and best" are forced to leave every year because higher education places are capped.

Support similar to that given to the University of Highlands and Islands in Scotland has been mooted. Sir Ron Dearing on a visit to Ulster two months ago heard a proposal for increased links between the colleges and the University of Ulster.

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