Posted on Tuesday 11 February 2014 by Ulster Business
The report argues that the region's skills are not adequate to compete in the global economy and that we require a big increase in graduate numbers to stop a "brain drain" of our brightest young people if we are to be competitive internationally.
U4D is calling for the substantial expansion of the University of Ulster's Magee campus as the means to bring Northern Ireland's higher education provision up to levels achieved in the rest of the UK.
In its new report the group details statistics which it says illustrate the damage to productivity, economic output and employment opportunities caused by Northern Ireland having the smallest university sector of any part of the UK.
Padraig Canavan, chair of U4D, said the report highlights the skills deficits in Northern Ireland which U4D believes have come about because of a lack of local university places.
"This report reveals that Northern Ireland requires an additional 15,400 places at its universities just to match the levels of university provision in England. That provision in England is increasing by 30,000 places this year, precisely because the UK Government realises the connection between the skills generated by university education and the long-term health of an economy," he said.
"We urge MLAs of all parties to read this report and to recognise that Northern Ireland needs to copy England, Scotland and Wales in providing the raw materials for the modern economy – skills.
"It is only by increasing the skill base of the labour market in Derry-Londonderry and the wider North West that we will combat our unacceptably high rate of unemployment. Only the substantial expansion of university provision will turn our economy round."
Some of the key points in the report include:
• Northern Ireland produces the highest proportion of school leavers going to university of any of the UK's four nations.
• Northern Ireland has the smallest university sector of any of the UK's four nations.
• Northern Ireland's increased rate of school leavers going to university has only been achieved by a growing proportion of them doing so in Great Britain.
• The loss of Northern Ireland students to Great Britain is seriously damaging to our productivity, wealth generation and ability to grow our own businesses and to attract inward investment.
The group also noted that Northern Ireland's two universities have a combined income of almost £500m and generate an additional £675m in economic activity.
It said the opportunity presented by bringing higher education provision here to a par with the UK average can be measured in hundreds of millions of additional income and economic activity – which would far outstrip the cost to government.