University of Ulster chief rails at Stephen Farry over Magee expansion U-turn
The bombshell announcement that the expansion of the Ulster University campus in Londonderry is "off the table for the indefinite future" has been met with a wave of fury.
Department of Education and Learning Minister Stephen Farry said during an interview that not only would the expansion of the Derry campus not go ahead, the number of students would be cut. He blamed budget cuts and a lack of resources.
Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin hit back at the minister and said "Derry would not be held to ransom'' before calling for an emergency meeting of the group set up specifically to spearhead the expansion of the campus.
Last month, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan approved plans for an £11m expansion to the current campus in Derry and a business case supporting the call to increase student numbers by 10,000 by 2020 was due on Mr Farry's desk.
All of this, according to Mr Farry, has been shelved, which came as a surprise to the staff and management of the University of Ulster who are now seeking an urgent meeting with him.
A clearly angry provost of Magee, Dr Deirdre Heenan, said the University of Ulster was "disappointed" with the announcement. She added: "The university has steadily progressed plans for the £11m Magee campus teaching block project and welcomed the planning permission granted just last month by the environment minister and Derry City Council.
"We were aware that both universities would suffer budget cuts in the current year, however, the potential impact of these on specific projects had not yet been discussed.
"The university will now be seeking an urgent meeting with the DEL Minister."
Ms McLaughlin also wants the matter discussed urgently and called for the minister to retract his comments.
She said: "Stephen Farry is practising microphone diplomacy, announcing unilateral decisions on the airwaves and is playing politics with vital issues. It is totally wrong to use the proposed Tory-led welfare cuts as an excuse to block the expansion of Magee.
"The cap on student numbers at Magee must be lifted and the minister must withdraw these comments and work with the University of Ulster and all stakeholders in Derry to deliver the expansion of Magee."
Despite the backlash, the minister insisted he had no other choice because of a £16.3m cut to his budget. He said: "I have no alternative but to pass on an element of these cuts to our universities."