2014 will see important progress towards the expansion of the University at Magee.
Important work has been ongoing over the last 18 months resulting in the formation of a new Skills and Education implementation group and agreement has now been secured on a business case for University expansion.
Much has been debated on the need for a business case - when Sinn Féin and others argued that a robust business case was required some criticised and questioned. One of the key lessons Derry has learnt over the last few years - especially in the City of Culture year - is that no-one is going to “simply write the cheque” in the absence of robust economic and social arguments when using public funding.
Equipped with Derry’s voice on a public petition, supported by Derry City Council, University 4 Derry (U4D), Chamber of commerce and other statutory and community representatives we lobbied the DEL minister to clarify the situation. That clarification came in an Assembly debate when the Minister confirmed: “If a proposal were to be taken forward to expand the Magee campus in line with the vision set out in the One Plan, then a full economic appraisal would be required”.
Consensus is now in place and whilst we have much work to do to ensure that the case stacks up – tender documents are now being advertised, a report will be taken to the City Strategy Board in June with the Economic Appraisal to be submitted to the Ministers by September 2014.
This week sees the first full meeting of the Education and Skills Implementation group. This group led by Derry City Council and University of Ulster will have the authority to develop the Business case for higher education expansion to 9,400 students by 2020.
Much has been stressed about the skills mismatch in the city. The recent U4D report highlighted that the North is producing too few STEM (Science, technology, English, Maths), creative arts and design arts students and has over representation in graduates holding general degrees such as business and administration, combined degrees and teaching degrees - a big task but we have renewed opportunities existing through the skills escalation strategy, responsibilities for the private sector and the opportunities presented with the opening of the Science park at Fort George to tackle the situation of 58,700 employees with skills shortages.
It is also interesting to note that over 26 countries examined, the average percentage of young people completing university degrees is 38%, however the South of Ireland does significantly better than this average. Given Derry’s location as a gateway to Donegal I suggest with a little more co-operation Derry could become a leader as a regional University City.