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Northern Ireland has highest proportion of people with no qualifications in UK

29 May 2014

A report from UCU released today has highlighted the effect that devolution is having on post-compulsory education in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK.

It shows that Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of people without a qualification (18.4%) in the UK - the average is 9.9%. Northern Ireland spends three and a half times as much on higher education than it does on further education, a bigger difference than anywhere else in the UK.

The report, launched at the union's annual Congress, includes an analysis from HM Treasury of relative spending on further and higher education by each of the devolved nations. It also includes information about qualification levels and performance on widening participation measures. Key findings include:

  • Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of people (18.4%) with no qualifications (UK average is 9.9%)
  • people aged 25-29 are 50% more likely to have a first degree than the working age population as a whole, and 43% less likely to have no qualifications
  • Northern Ireland scores best when it comes to widening participation. Over a third (38%) of university entrants come from the poorest backgrounds (UK average is 32.3), and 99% of university entrants come from state schools (UK average is 89.3)

The union will be using these six tests as to assess whether emerging policies in different parts of the UK benefit education. The questions look at whether proposals are fair for all students regardless of their age and circumstances, can attract and retain strong and stable staff, and would deliver a system that offers the broadest possible choice of courses.

UCU Northern Ireland official, Katharine Clarke, said: 'Northern Ireland should be proud of its efforts to widen access to university from students from the poorest backgrounds. However, more needs to be done to encourage more people to gain qualifications and go to university.

'It's important that we learn lessons from different policies across the UK, and we hope our new six tests for assessing policy initiatives will offer a thorough critique of new proposals.'

*The 'six tests' to be applied to any policy/funding initiative are as follows:

  • Will the proposal make it easier for people to reach their full potential?
  • Will the proposal increase our academic capacity and research base?
  • Will the proposal make the UK a more attractive place for academic staff to work?
  • Will the proposal make it less costly for individuals to study, whether young or old?
  • Will the proposal broaden the range of subjects available for study?
  • Will the proposal lead to higher quality and reduced fragmentation in the sector?
Last updated: 10 December 2015