The high number of students who leave the North to study at universities in Britain and do not return may have a knock-on effect for the local economy, it was warned today.
A paper issued by the Equality Commission showed that around two-thirds of Northern Ireland-domiciled graduates who studied in Britain did not return in the short to medium term.
The report, 'Educational Migration & Non Return In Northern Ireland' – launched at a briefing for educationalists, key stakeholders and political parties, also noted that students from a Protestant community background were more likely to migrate from the North for higher education than Roman Catholics.
Welcoming the report, Equality Commission chief commissioner Bob Collins said: “Education has a key role in ensuring Northern Ireland’s future economic success and will play a vital role in improving the lives of its citizens.”
He added: “Education migration and non-return has far-reaching consequences, especially in relation to the community composition of the labour pool available to employers in Northern Ireland.
“The high level of students who do not return home after studying in Britain may also have a knock on effect for the Northern Ireland economy.”
The findings showed that in 2005/6 29% – 2,736 – of Northern Ireland school leavers migrated to study in Britain.
The total number of Protestant and Roman Catholic migrating was broadly similar - 1,217 against 1,148. However, expressed as a proportion of school leavers, it means 34% of Protestant school leavers and 23% of Catholics migrated to study in Britain.
It was also noted that half of the 371 whose community background was recorded as “other” also went to GB.
Factors in the report noted to influence student migration to Britain included personal choice and aspirations, socio-economic status and affluence – with students from more affluent backgrounds more likely to migrate than less affluent students.
Setting out educational attainment by community background and gender, the report showed that Catholics were more likely to go on to higher education – 40% - than Protestants – 34%.
By contrast, Protestants were more likely to go on to Further Education – 32%, than Catholics, on 24%.
At 47%, Catholic school leavers were more likely than Protestants, 41%, to have two or more A-levels.
Girls outperformed boys on all fronts, with 53% leaving school with two or more A-levels against 31% of boys. Girls, at 44%, were more likely that boys, 31%, to progress to higher education.
Mr Collins said: “Education often determines a person’s life chances and opportunities in terms of social and economic mobility.
“This research has shown that factors such as social deprivation and higher education policy directly influence the decisions our young people make when considering their higher education options and should, therefore, be of prime importance to educationalists, politicians and government agencies.”