Northern Ireland

Top UK economist calls for investment in NI higher education

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Image caption One of the most influential economists in the UK says Northern Ireland may have to invest more in further education

Northern Ireland will need to invest more in higher education, an influential economist has suggested.

Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane, said the move was needed to boost productivity.

Northern Ireland's universities cannot currently accommodate all prospective students, he said.

"If that is suggesting the sector isn't the scale it needs to be then I think there's a simple solution on the table."

Mr Haldane is also chair of the Industrial Strategy Council and was speaking in Belfast ahead of a meeting of the body in Northern Ireland.

The council is an independent body which is monitoring the government's progress on the commitments made in its modern Industrial Strategy.

The aim of the strategy is to boost productivity and pay by encouraging investment in skills, industries and infrastructure.

Mr Haldane said "anchor institutions" like universities along with connectivity are the "golden threads" in driving up value, pay and productivity.

Image caption Andrew Haldane is the Bank of England's chief economist and is also chair of the Industrial Strategy Council

Northern Ireland's productivity, or output per worker, is consistently about 15% below the UK average.

That may be partially related to a relatively low skilled workforce, among the UK regions Northern Ireland has the lowest proportion of the population with qualifications equivalent to A-Level or above.

Additionally over a third of students from Northern Ireland who start a degree do so at a university elsewhere in the UK.

Mr Haldane said that may be an issue which needs to be addressed to "boost the skills of Northern Ireland".

The industrial strategy allows for different regions of the UK to shape their own plans, for example Greater Manchester recently launched an industrial strategy.

Stormont

Mr Haldane agreed that the lack of a Stormont government puts Northern Ireland at a disadvantage in this regard.

However, he said businesses could still benefit from UK-wide "sector deals" such as those for the aerospace industry and he encouraged more Northern Ireland applications for Innovate UK grants.

"There is a real sense among businesses and institutions about what is needed and there is a lot they can do themselves to make the case and prepare the ground even in the absence of a government-led local strategy," he said.

He also urged the next prime minister to stick with the broad shape of industrial strategy as it will take years to bear fruit.

"We haven't lacked for industrial policies over the years, what those policies have lacked is consistency and longevity," he added.

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