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Text: A M Gallagher ... Page Design: John Hughes

Majority Minority Review 1
Education and Religion in Northern Ireland

by A M Gallagher

Section 8: Higher Education

Until 1968 there was one university in Northern Ireland, the Queen's University of Belfast (QUB), although a small number of students followed university courses at Magee College in (London)Derry. Following the Lockwood report (1965), and amid some political controversy, the New University of Ulster (NUU) was opened in CoIeraine. In addition, the Ulster College, later Ulster Polytechnic, was opened on the outskirts of Belfast. NUU never achieved its projected student intake and, following the Chilver report (1982), was merged with the Ulster Polytechnic to form the University of Ulster (UU). The new institution incorporated the NUU site in Coleraine, the Polytechnic site in Jordanstown, the Belfast College of Art and Magee College in (London)Derry. Both the Lockwood and Chilver reports provide detailed statistical information on university education in Northern Ireland although none of these data are broken down by religion.

Northern Ireland shared in the UK-wide expansion of university education in the 1960s (figure 8.1). However. as table 8.1 indicates the onset of the 'troubles' had a marked effect on the pattern of enrolments. On the one hand a higher proportion of university entrants left Northern Ireland with most entering British universities and a small number entering universities in the Republic of Ireland. At the same time, the inflow of university entrants from outside Northern Ireland decreased.

Table 8.1: Inflow and outflow of Northern Ireland university students and entrants (percentages)

NI students
NI entrants
staying in NI
leaving NI
from NI
from outside NI

There is little published information on the religious composition of university students in Northern Ireland: the last official denominational statistics were published in 1908-9 at which time 8.5% of the students at Queen's College were Catholic (Osborne et al., 1983). However, it seems clear that Catholics were generally under-represented among university students until relatively recently. Rea (1968) carried out a survey of undergraduate students at Queen's University in 1964 and .found that Catholics comprised 21.1 % of the sample. Figures produced by the Catholic Chaplaincy at QUB suggested that the proportion of Catholics in 1953-4 was 19.1% and this steadily rose to 27.4% by 1968-9. Osborne et al. suggest that, among all university students in Northern Ireland, this steady increase in the proportion of Catholic students throughout the 1960s was enhanced in the 197Os: between 1973 and 1979 they calculate that while overall student numbers increased by 45%, Protestant numbers increased by about 39% while Catholic numbers increased by 7 1 %. Taylor (1987) has suggested that by 1978-9 the proportion of Catholic students at QUB had increased to 42.5%.

The Chaplaincy figures mentioned above suggest that Catholics were over-represented in the Arts and Law faculties of QUB and under-represented in the Agriculture, Science and Medical faculties. Data for 1973 and 1979 university entrants (Osborne et al., 1983) suggest that Protestant women are more likely to be enrolled on Science courses than Catholic women; Catholics, both men and women, are more likely to be in Social Studies/Administration/Business courses; while Protestant men are more likely to be in Medicine, Agriculture, Science, Engineering or Technology courses than Catholic men (see also Reid and Goldie, 1981).

Outflow figures for the 1973 (Osborne et al., 1983) and 1979 (Osborne et al., 1987) university entrants suggest differences in denominational patterns. A higher proportion of Catholic university entrants stayed in Northern Ireland, particularly for the 1979 entrants. By contrast, a higher proportion of the Protestant university entrants left for British universities. In addition, Protestant entrants to university in Great Britain were among the better qualified (Wilson, 1985). Catholics predominated among the small overall proportion leaving for universities in the Republic of Ireland. Many of these patterns have been repeated or enhanced in a survey of 1985 university entrants (Osborne et al., 1988; Osborne and Cormack, 1989). This survey indicated that while 57% of Protestant entrants went to Northern Ireland universities, this was true of 75% of Catholic entrants. Conversely, 43% of Protestant entrants went to British institutions compared with 22% of Catholic entrants.

"The universities in Northern Ireland provide a rare
example of educational institutions taking both
Protestants and Catholics. Despite this, there
has been no significant investigation of the extent
to which these institutions operate as integrated institutions."

Some years after they had entered university approximately a third of those who had left Northern Ireland returned. For the 1973 entrants Catholics were somewhat more likely to have returned to Northern Ireland by 1980 than Protestants and this was most marked for women. For the 1979 entrants such differences in the proportions returning to Northern Ireland by 1985 had largely disappeared due, in part, to the higher proportion of Catholic non-returnees from the Republic of Ireland and the increased proportion of Protestant women returning from British universities.

Osborne et al. (1983) obtained the occupations, in 1980, of the 1973 entrants. Protestants were more likely to be employed in engineering and technical occupations, while teaching and social welfare-related occupations were more significant for Catholics. There were broad similarities in the proportions recorded in management/administration, for example, as lawyers or accountants.

For the 1979 entrants Osborne et al. (1987) obtained the occupations and salary levels in 1985. Not surprisingly, salary level was related to the course studied and occupation, although not to the degree level achieved. In addition, those living outside Northern Ireland were earning significantly more than those who remained or returned to Northern Ireland. The mean income of Protestants was higher than that of Catholics, particularly for men, and this difference remained when similar courses had been studied, for similar degree levels and for those living in or outside Northern Ireland. Within the occupational groups Protestant incomes remained higher, except for those working as professionals in science, engineering and technology, where Catholic mean incomes were slightly higher. This category accounted for 16.2% of Protestants and 5.5% of Catholics.

Further research areas

Much of the published research on religion and higher education in Northern Ireland has concentrated on the relative numbers of Protestants and Catholics in higher education, the courses followed by these students, or the occupational positions achieved by graduates. While this work will continue, it would be made easier if the universities published details of the religious composition of their student populations. There may be a case for investigating any religious disparities in courses followed by students. If, as has been suggested, the Government introduces some element of a loans scheme for student grants this may have some impact on access to higher education. any such impact should be monitored.

The universities in Northern Ireland provide a rare example of educational institutions taking both Protestants and Catholics. Despite this, there has been no significant investigation of the extent to which these institutions operate as integrated institutions.

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