This month Newry education will pay witness to over 1,000 young minds leaving the district for third level education. The annual flux towards universities in Belfast Dublin and further to England and beyond will guarantee students the cold reality of debts of tens of thousands of pounds on completion of their chosen course. With university fees constantly increasing and student loan companies lowering the wage threshold for repayments, fresh local graduates will be immediately demanding instant financial recuperation for their newly gotten skills. However will these factors combined with a £17m investment in the Belfast to Dublin train line create an unstoppable ‘brain drain’ from Newry or can movers and shakers in the city plug the employment gap and grow the supply of jobs in a new central business district? The Newry Reporter spoke to some of the District’s most influential professionals to analyse the future prospects of Newry’s growing population.
Norbrook’s corporate communications manager Roisin Hughes herself a student of Our Lady’s Grammar and graduate of the University of Ulster has returned to the city with the confidence that Newry can evolve as one of the post-recession business giants of Ireland. The SRC helps manage Norbrook’s new apprenticeship schemes (levels two and three) which are aimed at school leavers and undergraduates. In addition we are engaging with the SRC in conjunction with the University of Ulster on an apprenticeship four and five programme. Norbrook is the first company in Northern Ireland to offer such a programme in Life and Industrial Sciences. This partnership allows students to ‘learn while they learn’ and encourages them to complete an apprenticeship with an industrial approach. The students combine part time work with college time to earn a foundation degree.
Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency (NMEA) CEO Dr Conor Patterson believes that that the vibrant entrepreneurship of local talent could form the building blocks of a new business power house attracting inward investment. “I would dispute the idea of a brain drain occurring and instead I would actually promote Newry as a potential brain magnet,” he said.
Southern Regional College CEO Brain Doran at the helm of voluntary education sector in the district is projecting a five year plan for a new one site university model in Newry. The statistics of the SRC shows that almost 68 per cent of its students progress on to honours degree level with 26 per cent applying to University of Ulster, 12 per cent to Queen’s and over 60 per cent to universities in England Scotland and Wales. However the turnaround of these students back to Newry has yet to be seen in high numbers. A change in the targeting of fully qualified third level students is now taking a grass roots level approach. For potential third level students to have the ability to stay and study in their own home area to gain honours degrees is something that will hugely benefit our young minds,” said Mr Doran.
The key to employment and business success in Newry could lie in its available resources both materialistic and intellectual. Parker Green International The Quays has been based in Newry for the last 15 years. Group Managing Director Dr Gerard O’Hare is also the chairman of the Graduate Acceleration Programme (GAP) which has to date helped 1,000 unemployed graduates into business jobs. According to Dr O’Hare who is also a board member of Invest NI Newry can encourage its young talent to help grown the city into a business hub if careers skills start at an early stage in schools. We must again look out and see export markets as opportunity waiting to be tapped. Other than growing good grapes to produce an abundance of fine wines if something can be done elsewhere in the world then it can be done here in Northern Ireland. Here in Newry whilst retail trade has suffered at the Quays like everywhere else we created over 2,000 new office jobs in the last six years We must always be about willing to respond to changing conditions but in a structured intelligent and effective way.
3rd September 2014