Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 13:14 UK

Employment and Learning Committee

A higher education strategy for Northern Ireland has been described as "unbalanced" by the TUV leader, on 2 May 2012.

Speaking at a meeting of the employment and learning committee, Jim Allister said the 'Graduating to Success' strategy was "utterly skewed" as it did not address inefficiencies in attracting Protestant students to university.

The department official who led the team responsible for the report, Patricia McVeigh, said under-representation would be addressed in the widening participation strategy.

Her colleague Nuala Kerr emphasised that the document was not the personal view of the civil servants involved in its creation.

"I record extreme disappointment that we could be considered to be biased in how we deliver our minister's strategy," she said.

Employment Minister Stephen Farry launched the higher education strategy in April.

It aimed to demonstrate an integrated approach to providing skills, supporting people and contributing to the creation of jobs.

Committee chair, Basil McCrea of the UUP, said Mr Allister had raised a "genuine petition of concern", however, Sinn Fein's Fra McCann said he was concerned that the member "had chosen to sectarianise the whole debate".

Chris Lyttle of the Alliance Party said it was "misleading" to say the report contained nothing regarding wider participation access.

A programme specifically targeting young people considered Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) was also discussed at the committee.

Theresa Rogan explained funding for the Gerry Rogan Initiative Trust (GRIT) was no longer available.

The project offering a five week intensive personal development programme for young people to review their life choices was set up six years ago.

Ms Rogan said it had been completed by 270 people in Northern Ireland and in the succeeding six months 88% had gone into training.

She said she wanted to present a model which the trust had developed "that we believe is very impactful on people's lives".

"This is a solution that we know works and we are willing to share it with other community groups," she said.

Three young people told the committee of their experiences of the programme.

James McCusker said before he took part he "had no aspirations" and "couldn't think of a future".

He said he had now tackled his drink and drugs problems and had decided to attend university and become a youth worker.

Sarah Bell said the project "made me feel like I was worth something in this earth".

"I left with a better knowledge of how I wanted my life to turn out and more belief in myself," she said.

Amy McGarrity referred to the programme as "a life-changing experience". She said "it would be such a waste" if GRIT was no longer available.

Employment and learning committee membership

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