Skills report warns Brexit will hit thousands of border students

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Large numbers of the estimated 400,000 young people in Derry and Donegal in education at any one time are crossing the border to access skills improvement opportunities, according to a new report.

However, these students will face huge disruption if the potentiallly negative impacts of Brexit are not mitigated, warns ‘The Skills System in Northern Ireland: Challenges and opportunities’ paper, which has been newly published by Scotland’s Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

“Leaving the European Union (EU) could impact on the ability of college and university students living in border areas to attend their nearest provider, as it may be across the border,” the report cautions.

“It has been estimated that some 15,000 people cross the border with Donegal daily to work or study in Derry-Strabane.

“There are 400,000 people in the education system in these two counties at any one time, large numbers of whom cross the border for educational opportunities,” it adds.

The IPPR report says seamless population flow within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain and continental Europe needs to be maintained if Derry’s skills base is to be improved.

“There is a risk that the international dimension of Northern Ireland’s skills system could be impacted by Brexit, so it is important that any future migration policy allows for ease of movement of students and those on skills development programmes.

“Furthermore, the UK leaving the EU could also mean that any student from one jurisdiction wishing to study in the other will be charged the same high tuition fee level that a non-EU student currently pays, which may be twice or three times the current fee level,” it states.

Elsewhere, the report identifies a range of issues that need to be addressed in order to strengthen the North’s skills system.

Sinn Féin’s education spokeswoman Karen Mullan said: “It highlighted that the economy here is very strongly weighted towards small and medium enterprises (SME), and that both qualifications levels and career progression levels are lower in the North than the average for England, Scotland and Wales.

“Therefore interventions are necessary to ensure skills provision is addressed.

“The report outlined some skills programmes currently in place such ‘Assured Skills’, ‘InnovateUs’ and the knowledge transfer programme ‘Connected’ are approaches aimed at developing skills which can be built upon.”