Concern over Magee expansion plans

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Plans to expand Derry’s Magee university campus could be curtailed by uncertainty over Foyle College’s move to the Waterside, Magee’s most senior academic has said.

Professor Deirdre Heenan, Provost of the University of Ulster’s Magee Campus and Dean of Academic Development, says Magee’s expansion is “inextricably bound up with the successful and timely transfer of Foyle” to its proposed new site at Clooney.

Professor Heenan was speaking as figures obtained by the Journal show an increasing demand for places at the Derry campus.

“The University of Ulster’s plans for expanding the Magee campus are inextricably bound up with the successful and timely transfer of Foyle and Londonderry College to the Clooney site,” Professor Heenan says.

“Any hitch in the transfer of Foyle and Londonderry that would have a knock-on impact on Magee’s expansion would be a matter of great concern, and I’m sure this will weigh heavily with the Minister.”

Earlier this week Education minister John O’Dowd said a decision on the Foyle move would be made in September after he reviews the department’s capital builds projects.

Professor Heenan says that it has long been agreed that Foyle’s relocation will free up 30 acres of land for Magee’s expansion.

She says that expansion “is an important pillar of the North West’s regeneration hopes.”

The uncertainty over future expansion plans comes at a time when record number of students are applying to study at Magee.

Statistics released to the ‘Journal’ show the University received 6,428 applications for the next academic year for approximately 900 full-time undergraduate places - that’s a 12% rise on 2010 and a 35 % rise on 2009.

Padraig Canavan, chair of the U4D lobby group - which is campaigning to secure more university places for Derry - says the latest application figures show that the expansion is needed immediately.

“Expansion of Magee is a long term project, the benefits of which compound over time. The quicker expansion starts the faster, more substantially and more widely - regionally and socially - they will be felt.

“The commitment on the first step of this expansion is urgently overdue and no other economic considerations should obstruct it.”

He warned of the impact of the lack of progress on Magee’s expansion. Mr Canavan says the cap restricting student numbers needs to be lifted.

“It is economically destructive for Magee to be unable to accept the majority of the students who have applied for places here, because of the cap on student numbers (MaSN) imposed by the Department for Employment and Learning.”

Mr Canavan, along with Sinn Fein junior minister Martina Anderson and SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey met earlier this week with the north’s Employment and Learning minister Stephen Farry.

“He is very sympathetic to our case,” he says, “but the sympathy must lead to action – the cap must be lifted and the funds given to make this a reality.”