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Minister slated as Ulster University forced to cut language school

By Rebecca Black

Published 03/09/2015

Minister for Employment and Learning Stephen Farry
Minister for Employment and Learning Stephen Farry

The minister responsible for higher education, Stephen Farry, has been accused of not supporting Ulster University after the institution said it had been forced to scrap its school of modern languages.

UU will also axe interior design, no longer offer single honours maths degrees and cut back other departments including computing, business management and marine science.

Vice Chancellor Paddy Nixon said it had been forced to act because it could not absorb any further funding reductions.

These cuts also include the loss of 1,250 students places and 210 jobs.

They come after Ulster University saw its budget from the Department of Employment and Learning reduced by 10%.

Mr Nixon said course closures were inevitable.

"We cannot absorb further cuts so now, more than ever, we must be decisive," he said.

"We must strengthen our focus on the sustainable delivery of high-quality teaching and world-leading research that produces graduates with industry-ready, relevant skills that benefit business and society.

"As a multi-campus institution, Ulster University faces particular considerations and our decisions reflect a strategic, longer term vision, not just for each campus but for the entire institution.

"Each campus will now have specific sectoral alignments, essentially becoming centres of expertise."

Robin Swann, chair of the Employment and Learning Committee, blasted Mr Farry, claiming he had questions to answer.

"It is the case that the primary responsibility for the cuts to university courses in Northern Ireland rest with the two leading parties who voted for the budget at the Executive - the DUP and Sinn Fein," he said.

"However, questions also need to be addressed by Mr Farry."

The UUP MLA said the cuts and closures appeared to have been made without consideration of other cutbacks at Northern Ireland's other university, Queen's Belfast.

"Crucially there does not appear to have been any coordination or facilitation between the Department of Employment and Learning and the Ulster University," he said. "Did Minister Farry not think he had an obligation to engage closely with the two universities on this vital issue, and ensure that no unacceptable gaps emerge in the higher educational opportunities for our young people?"

Mr Farry said: "The size of these cuts is an clear indication of the severity of the budget faced by the department, the university and the higher education sector. To help mitigate the impact of the reduction, I reduced the minimum required direct expenditure on widening participation to 10% of the additional student fee income earlier this year.

"This greater flexibility is how the university continues to deliver its strong performance and has helped avoid an even worse situation."

Mr Farry said up until last year he was able to introduce an additional 1,419 higher education places for universities, but that growth has now stopped due to the cuts handed down in the Stormont budget.

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