The final report of the review group chaired by Sir Henry Chilver on higher education in Northern Ireland is being published today, together with a Government statement. The two most important and urgent issues dealt with in the report are: (i) the future of the New University of Ulster; and(ii) future arrangements for co-ordination and planning of higher education in Northern Ireland.
It is clear from the report that in at least these two areas changes are necessary.In the view of the review group, NUU faces such major problems that closure might be necessary, and the university certainly cannot continue in existence in its present form. However, the report recommends that NUU should be kept open provided that it adopts a very different role, involving a reduction in conventional undergraduate and postgraduate work, and an increase in provision for mature students and for continuing education.On the co-ordination and planning of higher education, the report recommends the setting up of a new coordinating body, which would advise the Department of Education for Northern Ireland; would allocate funds; and would have links and cross-membership with the University Grants Committee and the Ball committee—which relates to public sector higher education in Great Britain.The Government have given very careful consideration to the Chilver group's views on the future of NUU. It shares the review group's desire to retain a major higher education base outside Belfast, but does not believe that the report's specific recommendations for NUU's future work would give a worthwhile and durable role. Instead, the Government believe that a better approach would be to pool the resources of NUU and the polytechnic. These two institutions have complementary characteristics. Together they would form the basis for a new split-site university which could provide the geographical and academic spread of provision which Northern Ireland requires. The new institution, which would replace both NUU and the polytechnic, would be expected to maintain the practical and vocational emphasis of the polytechnic, and to incorporate into this the strongest academic aspects of NUU. This combination would produce a strong and efficient institution, with a distinctive role which would complement the traditional academic emphasis of Queen's University of Belfast.The resulting system would thus comprise two universities, with contrasting roles. Since each of these universities would have the same relationships with DENI and UGC for funding and planning purposes, the problems of co-ordination could be solved without the creation of the complex machinery which the review group recommends.The Government's conclusions on these issues, and the reasons which have led to them, are set out more fully in a paper which will be published by the DENI today, of which a copy will be placed in the Library. Discussions on the practical implications of a merger betwen NUU and the polytechnic will now take place with the institutions concerned and with the UGC. If these discussions confirm that, as Her Majesty's Government believe, a merger will provide a viable alternative to establish the new institution, wider consultations on the remainder of the report's recommendations will also take place.