Farry: 'Universities are punching above their weight'

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The Assembly passed a motion calling on the Executive "to affirm its commitment to supporting and investing in the local higher education sector", on 19 November 2013.

The cross-party motion was proposed by Ulster Unionist Robin Swann.

He said Northern Ireland's three universities - Queens University Belfast, the University of Ulster and the Open University - were owed "a debt of gratitude".

Mr Swann said research work at the universities meant that Northern Ireland had become "a national and international trailblazer".

His sentiments were echoed by the DUP's Alastair Ross, who said the universities had a role to play in ensuring the right kind of graduates were produced.

Mr Ross specified STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and ICT skills.

Sean Rogers of the SDLP praised the work of the universities, but he drew attention to the situation of students forced to travel outside Northern Ireland to study their chosen subject.

"You don't have to go too far in the English countryside to find a vet from Northern Ireland," he said

Chris Lyttle of Alliance described higher education as "an engine room for personal development".

He praised the work of his party colleague, Stephen Farry, in his role as employment and learning minister.

Replying to the debate, Mr Farry said it was important to recognise "the huge contribution" higher education institutions were making to the local economy.

"Northern Ireland's universities are punching above their weight," the minister said.

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