Executive urged to act on Magee expansion
The expansion of the University of Ulster’s Magee campus must form part of the Executive’s Programme for Government, according to business and community leaders.
Lobby group U4D is also seeking a meeting with ministers to stress the seriousness of the situation for the Derry campus.
The Programme for Government (PfG), which is currently being considered by the Assembly parties, is the strategy setting out the Executive’s policy plans, key goals and actions for the next few years.
U4D co-ordinator Rosa McLaughlin said this was the best chance to get a commitment to the level of expansion needed to boost Derry's economy and regenerate the city.
She added: “We call on the city and region to support this call and, in particular, for MLAs and councillors to exercise all their political influence on the Executive and its ministers. This is the best opportunity we have ever had to bring about substantial improvement to the city that we love. It is essential that the One Plan for Derry-Londonderry is adopted by the Executive in the Programme for Government. The most important element of that plan is the expansion of Magee.
“Increasing higher education provision at Magee would stimulate our economy and create more jobs in the city for graduates and non-graduates alike. But the need for more university places has suddenly become a more urgent necessity.
“U4D is very worried that the welcome decision to hold down tuition fees in Northern Ireland will dramatically increase demand for places at our universities. That is very likely to mean that only elite students will obtain university places here. This could be very damaging to the higher education and employment opportunities for large numbers of our pupils, especially those from lower income families.”
U4D was set up to expand the provision of both undergraduate and post-graduate education in Derry, based at the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster. The group sees this as key to addressing the economic weakness of the north west region.
Increased university provision would raise skill levels, increase employment, attract higher levels of inward investment and improve business prospects, U4D says.
Its ethos was backed by a resolution of Derry City Council in December and has the support of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
The University of Ulster submitted a business case to the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) two years ago calling for the cap on student places to be lifted to facilitate the expansion of Magee by 2,000 students initially.
The plans were approved by both DEL and the Department for Finance and Personnel. However, Learning Minister Stephen Farry announced recently that the number of additional student places in Northern Ireland will be in the hundreds.