The number of Northern Ireland students attending university is at its highest level in the last 10 years, the Department for the Economy has revealed. However, it comes in stark contrast to the declining number of young people going on to further education in regional colleges. The department said a major reason for the soaring number of university students is the change in how A-level grades were awarded in the last two years, when pupils were awarded teacher-assessed grades rather than sitting examinations. The figures show just over 65,500 NI students were at university in the UK or anywhere in the world in 2020/21, a rise of 5% from 62,690 the previous year, the largest annual percentage increase over the past decade, according to the department. At the same time, the numbers attending further education colleges has fallen, with a 20% drop recorded for the first year of the pandemic. The department said a total of 48,920 students were in higher education in Northern Ireland and that there were students from 137 different countries enrolled in Northern Ireland. Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.
This field is required There are also almost as many students from India (3,150) enrolled in university in Northern Ireland than from the rest of the UK in total. The figures include undergraduate and postgraduate, full and part-time students and those enrolled on Open University courses. “Alongside the change in how A-level grades were awarded, there was an increase in the number of available undergraduate places,” the Department for the Economy analysis said. “Uncertainty regarding employment prospects early in the pandemic may also have contributed to an increase in postgraduate study,” it said. Around 3,300 students enrolled are from the rest of the UK while about 2,000 are from the Republic, with the number of foreign students from outside the EU accounting for 17% of all students Medical subjects, business and management, and social sciences were the most popular degree courses taken by Northern Ireland students. The statistics also show that almost six in every 10 students in Northern Ireland are female. The chair of the Colleges Principals’ Group has already called for a new approach to address the declining number of students at Northern Ireland’s six further education colleges. Ken Webb said the figures from the Department for the Economy was not simply down to a record year of exam results at A-evel and GCSE, but had roots in existing education policy. While the Department of Education had blamed the falling student numbers on teacher-assessed exam grades, leading to more university places, Mr Webb said: “The implementation of Department of Education’s Entitlement Framework has resulted in a changed education system with increased duplication of courses such as schools offering vocational courses at both Key Stage 4 and at A-evel. “We have also seen an increase in unsustainable sixth forms, an issue highlighted by the Education Authority’s Area Planning report last week. These statistics highlight that policy must put the needs of the learners first. “We are failing young people if we do not provide them with all the information they need to make more informed decisions following their GCSEs and A-levels.” Belfasttelegraph