Universities Minister Dr Stephen Farry has reiterated his view that the expansion of Magee as proposed in the Londonderry ‘One Plan’ is ‘unrealistic.’
The Minister, did however, once again commmit to examining a business case for the proposed expansion, which is currently under preparation and was slated for completion next month.
Two months ago this paper reported Dr Farry’s avowal that it would be folly to recommit to a target of 9,400 students for Magee by 2020 and his statement that he was in no position to make any further announcements on university expansion until the welfare reform impasse was sorted out.
And over a year ago the paper reported Dr Farry’s position that the One Plan’s 9.4k student target for Magee by 2020 was ‘aspirational’ and not part of the current programme for Government.
Following a fresh meeting with the University of Ulster, the Londonderry Strategy Board and representatives from the SDLP and Sinn Féin, Dr Farry has been signing from the same hymn sheet.
In a statement, he explained: “I am sympathetic to the potential further expansion of the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster. I understand the historical context and the potential impact upon the local economy in the North West.
“Since taking up office I have increased the number of undergraduate places at our two universities by 1,210 and 652 of these went to the University of Ulster for its Magee campus.
“This expansion has gone some way to meet the interim target set out in the One Plan. And my Department will continue to process bids for capital projects that are currently in the pipeline from the University of Ulster, including the Magee campus, in the normal way.
“However, any expansion of the university sector in terms of student places when we are battling with significant current and future cuts is unrealistic at this stage.
“The resourcing of the One Plan student numbers is a significant challenge, and would require an investment of around £30m on a recurrent basis annually.
“The Department will scrutinise any business case received in order to be in a position to make any bid in relation to the 2016-2020 Budget period.
“Any bid to the Executive for additional resources would only be viable once financial circumstances are different and the overall NI budget and the resourcing of my Department are placed on a sustainable footing.
“Any bid would have to represent additionality and not be at the expense of undermining quality elsewhere in the higher education system, and also needs to be considered in conjunction with other investments required to consolidate the world-class standards of universities and the wider development of skills in our economy in areas such as apprenticeships.”