Ahead of this week’s announcement of GCSE results, NUS-USI President Olivia Potter-Hughes said it appears the potentially devastating impact of Brexit upon further education has not been addressed. She said that leaving the EU could decimate apprenticeship place numbers, because the European Social Fund is a main funding source for apprenticeships in Northern Ireland. She also said that many FE students and staff cross the border to get to their college, and many FE students and staff avail of Erasmus+ opportunities; therefore, the current Brexit uncertainty is having a very damaging impact upon the FE sector.
NUS-USI President Olivia Potter-Hughes said: “It appears that the further education sector has been almost forgotten about in discussions about Brexit. This is GCSE results week, and it’s crucial that the future for students going into FE is given urgent consideration as regards the Brexit negotiations.
“Colleges NI, who represented FE colleges in Northern Ireland, unfortunately closed its doors in June this year and NUS-USI is speaking up to ensure that the potentially disastrous impacts that Brexit could have on FE here are discussed and addressed.
“Thousands of apprenticeships and training opportunities across Northern Ireland could be lost if new funding is not provided to replace the European Social Fund, if and when the UK leaves the EU. Losing apprenticeship and training opportunities would be a disaster for the economy here. Northern Ireland needs to be investing in skills so that it can meet the skill needs of any companies thinking of creating jobs here, rather than putting future apprenticeships and training in severe jeopardy. It is also critical that apprentices and apprenticeship places are protected by government if the company they are based at leaves Northern Ireland as a result Brexit.
“Many students and staff at FE colleges across Northern Ireland travel across the border to go to colleges, and the uncertainty of the Brexit situation is having a massively detrimental impact on FE colleges and individual students’ ability to plan for the future. The border, mobility, fees and student support are all issues where massive questions remain unanswered, even over two years after the car crash Brexit referendum.
“Erasmus+ is one of the most innovative and exciting tertiary education initiatives we have, and yet here is the UK about to potentially deny its students and academic staff the opportunity to improve their skills and life experiences if it crashes out of the Erasmus+ programme. Even if the UK negotiates access to Erasmus+, there will likely be no financial support for student participants, therefore only the richest people will be able to access student opportunities.
“Another key concern NUS-USI has is that qualifications here may not be recognised post-Brexit. There urgently needs to be dialogue and agreement on this issue to prevent people’s qualifications becoming obsolete internationally if and when the UK leaves the EU.
“I am deeply worried that the government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting our further education sector as regards Brexit. It’s time the UK woke up to the disastrous impact that Brexit will have upon the tens of thousands of FE students in Northern Ireland. Wake up, wise up and abandon Brexit before you cause any more damage to people’s lives.”