Foyle Learning Community (FLC) co-ordinator, Rosa McLaughlin, believes that hundreds of young people could miss out on further education if more university places are not created in Derry and the rest of the North of Ireland.
Ms. McLaughlin was speaking ahead of tomorrow’s education conference at Lisneal College.
She says that according to research carried out by the FLC more and more school leavers will opt to attend universities in the North of Ireland which in turn will put pressure on universities such as the University of Ulster’s Magee campus in Derry to increase its numbers.
“We can’t wait for the land at Foyle College to become available - we have to react now and utilise the existing campus at Magee. If we don’t do this then I think that a considerable number of our young people will miss out on going to university,” she said.
Local Sinn Fein councillor Michael Cooper, one of the party’s main representatives on the One Plan regeneration process, agreed with Ms. McLaughlin that Magee could be expanded before the land at Foyle College becomes available.
“Sinn Fein is concerned about enrolment figures at Magee and we fear that the lack of promotion of the campus in Ireland and abroad is one of the issues,” said Colr. Cooper. “We believe that the Magee campus can be expanded before the lands at Foyle are developed.
Colr Cooper added: Whilst initiating and maintaining STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects is crucial it is also vital to widen the number of subjects on offer which makes the decision to drop the history course, especially in the light of City of Culture, counter productive. In simple terms if Magee is only replacing some faculties with others it can’t be considered as expansion but rather a change of emphasis on what is taught which does nothing to increase enrolment as students have less subject choice.
A University of Ulster spokespersoncommented : “The University of Ulster very much welcomes the call by the Foyle Learning Community for a raising of the cap on full-time undergraduate numbers.
“This is an argument that the university has been making consistently and cogently both before and since the increase in tuition fee levels in England, Scotland and Wales.
“While we welcomed the freezing of tuition fees in Northern Ireland by the N.I.Executive, we were disappointed that they did not increase full-time undergraduate numbers by 1,000 at Magee, as we had requested.
“We believe that would have relieved some of the pressure on student places, which is an evitable consequence of higher fees in England, Scotland and Wales, and it would also have gone some way towards addressing the clear demand for additional places at Magee.
“We hope that DEL, and whichever Department might over its responsibilities, will heed our call and that of the Foyle Learning Community on this issue.”