Call for government to move on Northern Ireland skills policy to tackle brain drain

08 Nov 2022 | General

Our CEO Gareth Hagan was part of a recent Northern Ireland Committee Meeting discussing investment attraction and skills development in the region.


Full Northern Ireland Committee ‘Investment in Northern Ireland’ Report – 




Focus on skills to attract investment to Northern Ireland, MPs tell Government

MPs on the cross-party Northern Ireland Affairs Committee have called for a renewed focus on skills policy in NI, including reforms to the apprenticeship levy and the student cap, to attract investment into Northern Ireland.

In its latest report, the Committee urges the UK Government and Executive to change the apprenticeship levy on businesses so that money is returned to companies to invest in skills and training. The levy is effectively ringfenced in Great Britain for use only on the scheme. In Northern Ireland, however, the money is returned to general taxation and can be spent in any policy area.

Committee Chairman Simon Hoare said, “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.”

The Committee also urges Stormont and Whitehall to work together to find ways to raise the cap on university student numbers which currently acts as a ‘handbrake’ on Northern Ireland’s economy.

MPs highlight concerns that a lack of opportunity to study in NI is among the issues driving thousands of students elsewhere. In 2019, two thirds of the 17,000 Northern Irish students who studied in Great Britain did not return, widening the gap between the skills that NI employers want and those available in the local workforce – something witnesses described as a major issue for investors. This was particularly the case for manufacturing and high-growth industries like digital.

The student cap is currently calibrated every year by the Department of Finance based on financial calculations.

Committee Chairman Simon Hoare added, “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.

To address the skills gap and levelling up more broadly, the Committee calls on the UK Government to work more collaboratively with the Executive, and consider giving Stormont more control over funding, to ensure that spending is fair to NI, and is neither duplicated nor wasted. MPs on the Committee highlight that NI received proportionally less than the other UK nations from the first round of Levelling Up funding. They also urge 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 funding in this area.