MPs report that brain drain persists in Northern Ireland due to university places cap
The committee said that trend was widening the gap between the skills employers want and the talent available within the region’s workforce.
In 2020, the cap on student places across NI’s two universities was set between 6,000 and 7,000.
In a report focusing on bolstering investment in the Province, the committee urged Stormont and the Government to work together to find ways to raise the cap.
Committee chairman Simon Hoare said: “Northern Ireland generates no shortage of talented people and has two fantastic universities, but a brain drain has persisted, leaving Northern Ireland worse off.
“Although no panacea, we think raising the cap would help slow the leak, leading to greater prosperity, and we want the UK Government and the Executive, when formed, to find ways of increasing student numbers.
“Prosperity is the other side of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement coin, and this is why getting these things right is so important.”
Earlier this year, former Stormont economy minister Gordon Lyons highlighted the financial implications of raising the cap, warning it would require introducing higher tuition fees or taking money from another Stormont department.
Northern Irish students who study at local universities currently pay £4,630 a year in tuition fees, compared with a maximum of £9,250 for those who study in England.
Last month, Mr Lyons announced a full review of the higher education funding system.
The committee also urged reform of the apprenticeship levy in Northern Ireland.
It expressed concern that, unlike the system in England, the money generated by the levy on businesses in the region is not ring-fenced to fund apprenticeships.
Funds raised by the levy in Northern Ireland can be spent on any policy area.
Mr Hoare added: “We heard frustrations that businesses are seeing little return for their money.
“Meanwhile, good people in areas of high unemployment in Northern Ireland are blocked from getting the skills that would enable them to secure the stable jobs they sorely need and deserve.
“Given the damage this could do to business confidence and the demand to increase training in Northern Ireland, a way around this while respecting devolution must be found.”
Committee members also highlighted that Northern Ireland has received proportionally less than the other UK nations from the first round of the Government’s Levelling Up funding.
They called on the Government to work more collaboratively with Stormont and consider giving it more control over how Levelling Up funding is spent.
The committee also urged the Government to ensure there are no gaps or shortfalls in allocations from the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which is due to replace outgoing EU structural funding.