It is time to end the idiotic cap on the number of local students Northern Ireland’s universities can admit…

Many of us have a low opinion of Stormont at the best of times but along comes a story that highlights the utter head-bangingly stupid nature of some of their more crazy decisions. Writing in today’s Irish Times Newton Emerson highlights the issue of the cap on local students. From the article:

This year’s undergraduate entry requirements show Northern Ireland’s universities operating a two-tier system: students from the North need significantly higher grades than applicants from Britain.

For example, Northern Ireland students need three As at A-level to do law at Queen’s University Belfast, while applicants from Britain need only three Bs.

To keep grants under control, Stormont capped the number of local students Northern Ireland’s universities can admit. However, students from Britain can be recruited without limit, as they pay full fees.

This has caused or entrenched a series of disastrous trends. One-quarter of students have to leave Northern Ireland because they cannot find courses at home. Most go reluctantly, as they have to pay full fees in Britain, and two-thirds never return.

Only a trickle of students from Britain study in the North, turning the local student cap into a de facto budget cap and preventing universities from expanding. The resulting brain drain is increasingly recognised as a critical brake on productivity and growth. Only 40 per cent of young adults in the North are educated to degree level, compared with 60 per cent in the Republic.

Appeals to tribalism may be the only way forward. The brain drain is perceived as disproportionately harming the unionist population, while also vastly raising the cost of a united Ireland.

I can understand that University fees are unpopular. I was the last of the golden age that not only got free fees but also got a grant. But if there are fees in the rest the UK we should just bite the bullet and harmonise. I know Scottish students get free fees but not NI students studying in Scotland. My own nieces and nephews don’t consider student loans as ‘real debt’: they don’t really care if it’s 5k or 9k, they don’t plan to pay it back for decades. So I don’t expect there to be much impact on students if fees are raised. Remember you only need to start repaying student loans once your income goes over £18,935 a year, and if you are really unlucky in life they get written off.

Why would Diane Dodds as minister of the department of the Economy preside over such a bonkers system that not only harms her old University financially but also encourages a brain drain? I wonder would Diane have still gotten into Queen’s now under these rules?

Queen’s University of Belfast” by Iker Merodio | Photography is licensed under CC BY-ND