“Investment in education is an obligation that we have for the next generation”
That is the stark message from the Professor Richard Barnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster to the first of this year’s summer graduation ceremonies.
Speaking to an audience of graduands, parents and staff at the University’s Coleraine campus, the Vice-Chancellor will warn of the catastrophic economic consequences for the future of Northern Ireland that would ensue if its university sector were to be undermined by years of underfunding.
Quoting US President Obama, Professor Barnett will say : “Education is an economic issue. It is the economic issue of our time.”
On the issue of public support for education, the Vice-Chancellor recognises that Northern Ireland was facing tough financial times, and said that over the next two years the University of Ulster would be making 22% operational efficiencies of some £11.5m per year.
“That will not be easy, but we accept in these difficult times it is something that we should do.”
But even after those millions of pounds in operational savings, there was still a massive black hole of £40m per year in the Stormont’s higher education budget, according to the Vice-Chancellor:
“That hole must be filled. And in filling that hole, the Stormont government has three principal options:
· To find the £40million from elsewhere in the Stormont budget;
· To increase (deferred) fees to between £4500 and £5000 per annum;
· Or to cut the number of higher education places by some 20% to 25%.
“The last option would – as President Obama has said – be like seeking to lighten the load of an aeroplane by throwing the engine overboard.
“We’d glide along for a while, but it wouldn’t be long before we crashed to the ground.“
Professor Barnett will paint a bleak picture of the consequences of a sustained disinvestment in higher education.
“Northern Ireland would be disinvesting when almost every other country is investing. And in four years or so 1 in 5 or perhaps even 1 in 4 seats in this hall where the graduation class of 2011 are sitting today would be empty.”
And he will call on the Northern Ireland Executive to ‘do the right thing’ by higher education:
“This University has always been very clear on or preferred way forward. But in making their decision I ask our politicians at Stormont to do the right thing. And by this I am very clear what I mean.
“Doing the right thing is choosing the way forward that ensures that children from disadvantaged schools have an equal chance of sitting where you the graduation class of 2011 are sitting today, with their proud families sitting on this side of the hall – an equal chance with their more privileged peers from more socially advantaged areas.”
“Investment in education is an obligation that we have for the next generation."
Full text of the Vice-Chancellor’s speech (check against delivery) can be downloaded from