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Only a third of graduates who study outside NI return home

By Allan Preston ·

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Fiona Downey was a student in Twickenham, but has now come home

Only a third of Northern Ireland graduates who studied in England, Scotland or Wales returned here to work last year.

But around nine in 10 graduating in Northern Ireland stayed and found work within six months, figures published yesterday by the Department for Economy for 2016/17 showed.

Approximately 17,000 studied elsewhere, compared to more than 46,000 enrolled at Northern Ireland higher education institutions.

Fiona Downey (24), from Lavey, near Bellaghy in Co Londonderry, found teaching work in England after studying primary school teaching in St Mary's University College, Twickenham.

After three years in a permanent job in Twickenham, she made the difficult decision to resign and move back to Northern Ireland.

"I always wanted to be a teacher," she said. "I applied to St Mary's and Stranmillis here, Glasgow and Twickenham. I got offers from them all but when I went to Twickenham I just fell in love with it and was so amazed.

"The course I felt really suited me and it was very practical. It gave me a year's experience as well, which I knew would give me a head-start ahead of people studying teaching in Northern Ireland.

"It was a Catholic university as well which meant I could complete a certificate in RE, which other courses didn't offer.

"I also just wanted to get away, everyone else was going to Belfast and I just wanted to be a bit different."

Fiona said she was thrilled when she got a job at St Edmund's Catholic Primary School in Twickenham.

"I didn't want to give it up after my placement year and I knew there were more opportunities to develop as a teacher," she added.

"I also had all my friends over there, so there was the social aspect and we were doing things all the time."

In July, Fiona decided to move back home - a decision she admits was difficult, but with the cost of living in London in mind.

She explained: "I'm home for good and doing subbing at the moment, but hoping to get a full-time job. It's so much harder here, though.

"It was quite a hard decision for me to give up a full-time job, one where I was really excelling.

"There was a lot of promotion opportunities and they did beg me to stay at St Edmund's, but I can't say exactly what made me want to come home.

"Long-term I felt I had to be realistic, the prices over in London are just getting out of hand. That was probably the main reason but I was devastated to give up a job.

"I actually retracted my notice and then ended up handing it in again."

She added: "My experience was invaluable, though, and I would really recommend going away. It was a life-changing experience for me.

"I grew independent, I had to grow a backbone and stand on my own two feet.

"In London, if you don't barge your way through you don't get anywhere so that's exactly what I had to do."

"In London, if you don't barge your way through you don't get anywhere so that's exactly what I had to do."

When it comes to the 'brain drain' debate, Fiona sees both sides.

"We still have lots of talented people here. There are not as many opportunities which is quite tough but we still get by."

The figures from the Department also show that just 11% of students who graduated in Northern Ireland moved abroad for work.

The average salary for local graduates six months after graduating was £21,935.

Employment rates varied by subject, with medicine and dentistry graduates in Northern Ireland being in the highest demand at a rate of 95.7%, as well as 87% for subjects allied to medicine or education.

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Fiona Downey was a student in Twickenham, but has now come home