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According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), who handle a vast majority of admissions in the UK, Northern Ireland had a higher proportion of young people starting university in 2019 than England, Scotland or Wales. According to the UCAS, nine in every 10 students accepted at university in Northern Ireland in 2019 were local students. 60% of the demand for undergraduate programmes are met locally and one third, roughly 13 000, high-school graduates enrol at universities in other parts of the UK. Meanwhile, the number of international students at Queen's, largest university in Belfast, rose by 11% to 2619 in 2018-19.
An initiative worth following, especially with the Brexit aftermath at the Irish border, is the idea to establish a joint Irish-Northern Irish university. It follows the model somewhat similar to the European Universities Initiatives where parts of already existing universities “merge” into campuses of a joint university. The idea is to create a new Derry-Donegal institution comprised of Ulster University’s Derry campus and the Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Donegal. Both the governments of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland see this as an opportunity to regenerate the struggling region. Next to the financial and social benefits, the proponents of the idea hope for it to strengthen the region as British, Irish and European. Details on future cooperation are still to be negotiated and confirmed.