Magazine article Times Higher Education

Have It Our Way, NI Tells Its Sector

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Have It Our Way, NI Tells Its Sector

Article excerpt

Institutions get targets on 'economic relevance', income and dropout rates. David Matthews writes.

Northern Ireland's education minister has defended his "hands-on" relationship with the region's two universities after setting them a detailed list of targets for improvement, including altering course provision to meet the economy's needs.

Last week, the devolved administration's Department for Employment and Learning set out a higher education strategy listing detailed aims in 16 areas, ranging from the amount of money to be raised from intellectual property to improving dropout rates every year until 2020.

Graduating to Success asks Queen's University Belfast and the University of Ulster to draw up plans by next year to "rebalance" course portfolios to serve the economy's needs.

Richard Barnett, Ulster vice-chancellor, said that while he was happy to change courses to aid growth, it was "almost impossible" to anticipate what skills would be needed, especially in a "small economy" like Northern Ireland. "No organisation can predict what industry will need in four years' time," he said.

The document calls for 700 extra science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) places by 2014-15.

It also seeks an increase in the proportion of graduates and postgraduates in "economically relevant subjects", such as physical and biological sciences, mathematical and computer science, engineering and technology, to 22 per cent by 2020. In 2008, the figure was 18 per cent.

Professor Barnett said he favoured a shift towards STEM courses, but added that the "North American system is much better", with students there taking "broad-based undergraduate degrees and then you do the specific (postgraduate) training". …

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