Distribution of courses among Southern Regional College campuses, including Banbridge, has been flagged by Sam Gardiner MLA on the floor of Assembly.
During question time Mr Gardiner tackled the Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry, over the way in which higher education foundation courses are distributed among the different sites of the Southern Regional College in Portadown, Lurgan, Banbridge and Newry.
Mr Gardiner asked the Minister to “investigate why the Newry campus of the Southern Regional College, with 32% of the college’s catchment population, has 75% of higher education foundation enrolments, while Portadown and Lurgan, with 32% of the catchment population, have only 25%?”
Minister Farry undertook to raise the matter with Brian Dornan, the Director of the Southern Regional College. The Minister went on to say that, ultimately, the decision on placing courses is for the colleges.
Mr Gardiner explained that Banbridge currently has zero foundation degree enrolments, Newry has 205, Portadown has 70 and the SRC total is 275.
Commenting, Mr Gardiner said: “Over 97% of the funding for these regional further education colleges comes from the taxpayer. They earn less than 3% of their own money. Since the taxpayer funds them, I intend to get to the bottom of this on behalf of the taxpayers of Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge, whom I represent. The Craigavon industrial hub, one of the largest concentrations of industry in Northern Ireland, lies between Portadown and Lurgan and has some very high-tech companies. You would have thought this was a perfect site for a lot of higher education apprenticeships. I find it hard to believe it merits only a third of Newry’s higher education foundation enrolments. What I don’t want is for Lurgan, Portadown and Banbridge to be the poor relatives within the Southern Regional College, with all the best courses going to Newry.”
He continued: “Two decades ago Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge had three of the most active and successful further education colleges in the Province. I hope they have not been losers through the amalgamation with Newry. Since DEL supplies more than 97% of the income of all 6 regional further education colleges and they all earn less than 3% of their income from other sources, I do not believe the Minister has enough control of their operations.”
No one was available from the college to comment.