The Provost and Dean of Academic Development at Magee, Professor Deirdre Heenan, has warned that the number of students admitted to local universities next year is set to drop by around 1,000 and that this shrinkage is likely to continue in the years ahead.
She explained that the fall-off will be brought about as a result of a proposed 10.8 per cent reduction in the Department of Employment and Learning’s (DEL) budget.
Her comments are another stark reminder of how the One Plan’s stated target of 9,400 students for Magee by 2020 is now considered unachievable.
Writing in a Dublin newspaper on Sunday, Mrs Heenan, argued: “Growing a dynamic, innovative economy is the key strategic objective of the government’s programme for government.
“Higher education is recognised as a key economic driver in underpinning long-term economic growth.
“Despite this, DEL, which includes higher education, is facing one of the largest cuts with a proposed 10.8 per cent reduction in its budget. A counterintuitive move that has the potential to lay the foundations of an economic wasteland in Northern Ireland.”
The Ulster University Vice-Chancellor went on to spell out how this reduction would translate in terms of local university places.
“Over the past four years both of Northern Ireland’s universities have had to absorb major cuts as budgets have been reduced by 18 per cent
“This latest tranche of proposed cuts will fundamentally change the nature and shape of higher education in Northern Ireland.
“Should this budget cut be confirmed, the number of students admitted to Northern Ireland’s universities in 2015/16 will be reduced by around 1,000 and this shrinkage will continue.
“If individuals still want to pursue a university education then they will be forced to leave for England or Scotland where they will face tuition fees of £9,000,” she wrote.
Last June University Minister, Dr Stephen Farry said it would be folly to recommit to the 9,400 target for Magee by 2020 and that he would be in no position to make any further announcements on university expansion until the welfare reform impasse was sorted out.
Before Christmas a business case for the expansion of the Magee campus - significantly scaled back from the original One Plan target - was submitted to Dr Farry.
The preferred option - if approved - will see student numbers in the city increase by more than 5,000 over the next 10 years. The report was commissioned by Derry City Council, Ulster University, Ilex and the lobby group U4D in March.