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University of Ulster is backed by minister in row with Sinn Fein over Magee's expansion

BY BRENDAN McDAID

Education and Learning Minister Stephen Farry has sprung to the defence of the University of Ulster following criticism levelled by Sinn Fein over its handling of expansion plans at Magee College.

The minister said yesterday he doesn't need a business plan before allowing an increase in student numbers.

At the same time, Dr Farry vindicated the argument of Magee Provost Deirdre Heenan that a detailed breakdown of the proposals and projections for Magee was not currently being sought.

His stance contradicts claims by Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin that university bosses needed to "step up to the plate" and produce a robust business case for the expansion, claiming that's what was holding it up. The minister spoke out after a bitter exchange between the senior UU academic and the MLA over the implementation of proposals – outlined in Derry's One Plan regeneration blueprint and adopted by government – to double the number of full-time undergraduate places at Magee to 9,400 by 2020.

Ms McLaughlin said that to date only a single six-page, outline document had been passed to the Government for consideration, adding that this was back as back in 2010.

Ms McLaughlin said that this was in marked contrast to the detailed plans the university had submitted for the expansion of its Belfast campus.

Dr Heenan also confirmed that the university will take up its option to purchase the split campus grammar school's expansive two plots to facilitate the expansion plans and will have a business case in place beforehand.

And she reiterated the university's commitment to ensuring Magee was the only campus where student numbers would be increased in the coming years.

Magee has so far secured 572 of the 1,000 undergraduate places it has committed to provide for Magee by 2015.

Seeming to back Dr Heenan's comments yesterday, Mr Farry said: "I support the One Plan and the expansion of Magee. We are more than halfway to meeting the One Plan commitment."

BACKGROUND

The expansion of the Magee campus is seen as the central plank of the wider plan to regenerate Derry over the next decade. If the 9,400 undergraduate target is reached it is believed that this would generate 2,800 jobs. The proposals are detailed in the united One Plan which was incorporated in its entirety into the Executive's Programme for Government.

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