MLA’s concern on enrolment imbalances

Banbridge Campus Southern Regional College.
Banbridge Campus Southern Regional College.

CONCERNS have been raised over higher education enrolments at Banbridge campus of Southern Regional College compared to other areas

The alleged distribution disparity has been raised by Upper Bann MLA Samuel Gardiner who has discovered enrolments are “significantly higher” in Newry compared to Banbridge, Portadown and Lurgan.

Mr Gardiner said Newry, with 33 per cent of the population, had 75 per cent of full-time higher education foundation enrolments, while Banbridge - with nearly 15 per cent of the population - had zero per cent.

Mr Gardiner said, “I understand that historical patterns of enrolment are related to how colleges evolved in the past, but I have a concern that higher education enrolments appear to be significantly higher in the Newry campus of the Southern Regional College than they are in Banbridge, Portadown and Lurgan.”

Between them, he claimed, Banbridge, Lurgan and Portadown account for nearly half (46.5 per cent) of the Southern Regional College’s catchment area population, but jointly had only 25 per cent of full-time higher education Foundation enrolments.

This compares to Newry which has 75 per cent of full-time higher education Foundation enrolments - despite the fact the town has only 33 per cent of the population of the Southern Regional College’s catchment area population.

“Even when you lump Newry and Armagh together, this takes the population percentage to only 53 per cent which is a long way short of the 75 per cent of higher education foundation enrolments in Newry,” Mr Gardiner added.

“I gained my information from a series of questions I put to the Employment and Learning Minister. I have to say that the colleges were less than forthcoming with the information I sought.”

“They said they could only retrieve the information ‘at a disproportionate cost’ when I asked how many courses have been developed by the Southern Regional College in each of its campuses in the last five years. If the College does not know this immediately then you have to ask what is going on? I know all colleges have had sophisticated management information systems for the past 20 years which would produce this information by simply pressing a button.”

He highlighted reduced higher education enrolments in Waringstown, Edenderry, Annagh, Ballydown, Magheralin, Knocknashane, Fort and Bleary wards in his constituency which were “well below” the average of 13.6 per cent.