To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to fund an increase in the number of research places available to postgraduate students at Queen's University and the University of Ulster; and if he will make a statement.
On 30 November 1987 I announced a new "Distinction Awards" scheme designed to attract to the Northern Ireland universities postgraduate students of the highest ability. Under the scheme, the Department of Education will fund up to 20 additional research awards each year tenable at the Queen's University of Belfast or the University of Ulster. Each award holder will receive £2,000 per annum in addition to the normal postgraduate award.
That is welcome news. May I ask my hon. Friend for his assurance that the extra places will be allocated fairly across the religious divide? I should declare an interest: I am a Catholic married to an Irish Protestant.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the welcome that he has given to the proposals. I assure him that there will be no religious discrimination whatsoever in the giving of the awards.