Mr Robin Swann MLA, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Westminster candidate and Chairman of the Stormont Employment and Learning Committee, has thrown down an educational gauntlet to Alliance DEL Minister Stephen Farry to “do his ministerial duty and support the ethos of the local Tech specifically in the North Antrim constituency”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also UUP Chief Whip, issued his challenge as it emerged the current Department of Employment and Learning Draft Budget could have a devastating effect on young people in North Antrim.
Mr Swann warned: “The current draft budget indicates there will be 16,000 few places in our further education colleges, which to many families in the constituency are still affectionately called the local Tech.
“I believe these devastating cuts – if implemented - will be hardest felt across North Antrim, as even at the current level North Antrim had the lowest proportion of people aged 16 and over enrolled in further education.”
Mr Swann, who is also the North Antrim Constituency Chairman, highlighted the fact that “the latest available NISRA figures show that in 2009/10, there were 6,150 students from North Antrim enrolled in further education”.
Mr Swann added: “This equates to 7.3% of all constituents aged 16 and over being enrolled in further education when the Northern Ireland average is 11.0%.
“So it is imperative that the Minister ensures that there is clear and defined investment in the Northern Regional College, and that its contribution to wider society is recognised.”
In a reply to Mr Swann’s questioning, the Employment and Learning Minister has acknowledged that “NRC is working with community partners to deliver learning opportunities outside of its campus infrastructure”.
The Minister also told Mr Swann: “In 2013/14 NRC engaged with a total of 37 community groups in the North Antrim area. This engagement resulted in the delivery of 81 courses in the North Antrim area with over 800 individual enrolments. From 2012/13 to the year 2013/14, NRC noted an increase of 83% in its overall community provision.”
Mr Swann added: “So I believe it is imperative that the Minister supports the investment in young people that is being demonstrated by the NRC.”