NORTHERN Ireland's anomalous position within the United Kingdom of having only an advisory higher education body, and a dramatic undersupply of university places, has been boldy tackled by Dearing's report on the province.
It proposes creating both a higher education and further education funding council, under one chief executive who would also oversee a new planning body for both sectors (Rec 93).
The body should address the "vitally important issue" of expanding local provision, it says (Rec 90). Around 40 per cent of qualified young people go to study elsewhere in the UK. The report suggests lifting the Maximum Aggregate Student Number cap, but also proposes a range of options that it says are not mutually exclusive. These include: a new campus, such as Ulster University's proposed "peaceline" campus in Belfast; redeveloping properties owned by Queen's University, Belfast; adopting a three-semester year; and expanding sub-degree work in further education colleges.
The report stresses the regional role of higher education, given the province's high unemployment rate (Rec 89), and calls for a reassessment of research funding.