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Further Education means success for Northern Ireland Posted on 08/03/2018 00:00:00 Northern Ireland needs a thriving Further Education (FE) sector to compete globally and tackle social and economic inequalities. With ongoing financial pressures and political uncertainty, the value of the sector to NI cannot be underestimated.

The FE sector, consisting of six economic powerhouses, makes a significant contribution to the economy by supporting 80,000 learners per annum[i], generating over £524 million of output and contributing over £300 million to NI’s Gross Value Added[ii]. Supporting the skills base and increasing the competitiveness of SMEs is a crucial driver for economic growth and improving the region’s productivity rates. Already the Colleges are supporting over 10,000 businesses in Northern Ireland. 

The sector plays a key role in supporting social inclusion and tackling educational disadvantage.  The FE Colleges are open to all - regardless of background, religion, age or gender.  In fact, 42%[iii] of all learners are from the most deprived areas in NI (in some Colleges this figure is over 50%[iv]). FE Colleges stimulate active participation in learning amongst the hardest to reach communities.  The sector provides a second chance to many individuals, including young people leaving compulsory education and those adults already in the workforce. The FE pathway has a direct and positive impact on all learners, with over three quarters (76%) of those aged 17-18-year-old leaving FE deemed work-ready (while the comparative figure is 60% for school leavers[v]).

The FE sector is meeting the future skills demands as outlined in the 2017 NI Skills Barometer[vi] – namely one-third of FE courses are at Level 3 to Level 5 – this is where NI is facing significant undersupply and the sector is ready and able to meet this challenge. NI already has the highest proportion of working age population with no formal qualifications (15%) out of all of the UK regions[vii]. Skills deficits remain a significant issue, with particular sectors, occupations and localities acutely affected.  This supports the case for investment in workforce development.  In order to meet the skills demands of the future, we must invest in supporting lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce to support the possible jobs which will be created in fourth industrial revolution.

A strong FE sector and a focus on skills is pivotal in future proofing our economy by helping to create jobs and helping individuals get a job, keep a job and get a better job.

[i DfE (2017) Further Education Activity in FE Colleges in Northern Ireland 2016/17 [Table A1]

[ii] Viewforth Consulting (2016) The economic impact of Northern Ireland’s FE Sector on the economy

[iii] DfE (2017) Further Education Activity in FE Colleges in Northern Ireland 2016/17 [Table A17]

[iv] Ibid.  The proportion of students enrolled from the most deprived wards for North West Regional College was 55% and South West College was 51%. [Table A17]

[v] IFF Research (2017) Employer Perspectives Survey 2016

[vi] Ulster University Economic Policy Centre (2017) NI 2017 Skills Barometer “Skills in Demand” Summary Report – Updated June 2017


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