Royal Irish Academy pushes for higher education development in the Northwest

A comprehensive report and discussion paper, both recently published by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), have catalysed discussions on the need for enhanced tertiary education provision in the northwest region of Ireland. 

 

The report, funded by the Government of Ireland-Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme and the Shared Island Unit, outlines the disparities in university placement distribution—of which 80% is concentrated in Belfast. It calls for a more balanced allocation of resources across the region, noting recent positive initiatives such as the expansion of universities and the establishment of the North-West Tertiary Education Cluster (NWTEC). This call for a renewed commitment highlights the need for the region to fully realise the potential benefits of higher education.

 

Central to the proposed solution is the establishment of a federal cross-border tertiary education institution, merging existing institutions and campuses in the greater northwest. This institution would feature a governance structure facilitating coordinated planning and collaboration while maintaining individual jurisdictional funding responsibilities.

 

The accompanying discussion paper echoes the necessity for a cross-border oversight body to ensure efficient planning and distribution of university provisions. It advocates for enhanced concurrent funding from both jurisdictions, stressing the need to remove duplication while promoting collaboration.

 

The RIA’s movements towards enhanced higher education development in the northwest are lauded by stakeholders. They view the proposals as a watershed moment with transformative potential for both the educational landscape and the economic sector of the northwest. They asserted that the proposed blueprint would serve as a cornerstone for future economic discussions and development plans in the region.

 

Posed by limited resources, the authors emphasise the importance of commissioning a feasibility study by the Irish and UK governments and the Northern Ireland Executive. Such a study would explore potential frameworks for the future development of higher education in the Northwest. This would underline the immediate need for a strategy underpinned by sustainable investment and oversight to unlock the region’s economic, social and cultural potential.


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