Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Only one out of three students are Protestants

Only one in three of the 35,000 university students in Northern Ireland are from a Protestant background.  That has been revealed by the Department of Employment and Learning in response to an Assembly question.  But what is the explanation? 

Today some folk have attempted to explain the differential in student intake at Northern Ireland universities on the basis of educational underachivement in some working-class Protestant areas.  There is certainly an issue of educational underachievement and that issue must be addressed.  In doing so we need to start at an early stage, working with parents and children.

However this does not explain the major disparity in the number of Protestant and Roman Catholic students in Northern Ireland universities. There is also a problem of educational underachievement in some working-class nationalist areas and as DSD minister I have visited nationalist communities that recognise this problem and are seeking to address it.

As regards educational underachievement in unionist areas there are, I believe, a number of factors that contribute to this and I will return to this on another occasion. However the extent of the disparity in university intake is such that there must be other factors involved.

This is not a new issue but I think that on this occasion it has got such attention in the media that it will have to be explored further. Too often in the past universities were able to ignore the issue and hope it would disappear out of the spotlight.

We need further research to see how many young people, from unionist and nationalist backgrounds, are goiing on to university and the pattern of choice they are making. We must also see why our local universitiies are attracting fewer Protestants than Roman Catholics. Why are so many young Protestants choosing to go elsewhere, how many are choosing to go, and where are they going?

However, returning to my previous post, the situation at Magee is particularly acute and certainly cannot be explained by any differential in educational underachievement. 

There is obviously a chill factor for Protestants at local universities, something that is particularly acute at Magee, and it is incumbent on the universities to address that issue. It is also incumbent on the Assembly to carry out its own exploration of the matter.


  1. Has QUB become a Cold Place for Protestant/Uninonist students? My cousins all went to Mainland universities.

  2. Can this be the result of knocking down state primary and secondary schools in places like Lower North Belfast, agreeing to flatten streets of houses to deminish the population, cutting down on programmes and funding in the community that empower young people to attain and feel hope for a future, value themselves and not just live for today. could this also be as a result of living with the community trauma that has never been addressed and a community that feels unheard and set aside....unless your in a political party that is...

  3. Nelson, Did not Catriona Ruane try to address this problem by doing away with testing at 11. Thereby opening up the likely hood of grammar school placements of bright-wanting-to- get-ahead students from working class protestant and other backgrounds who are held back from achieving in primary education by peer pressures and other factors. but as you know her efforts were thwarted at every opportunity by the other side of the fence. Now the other side of the fence is holding up its hands and say 'why is this happening'. but saying one in three is only one way of looking at 51% of university students are non-catholic, catholics are still in the minority.

  4. Gerry - the reasons for underachievement are complex but the problem starts long before the age of eleven. The early years are the most important and so early interventions are especially important. For example, I recently agreed to fund a nurture unit for a primary school in Rathcoole.As regards the factors that contribute to underachievement I will post about that on another occasion.