The vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster says the “time is ripe” for the expansion of its Magee campus in Derry.
Professor Richard Barnett will tell audiences at the summer graduation ceremonies in the Millennium Forum this week that the university has “ambitious” plans for the Derry campus.
And he also has a no-nonsense message for government policymakers: “At a time when barriers to higher education for Northern Ireland students are being erected in England, Scotland and Wales through high fee levels of up to £9,000; at a time when demand for higher education is increasing; at a time when the need for skilled graduates, ready and willing to enter the workforce, has never been greater, the case for the expansion of Magee is stronger than ever.”
He will add: “Northern Ireland has the smallest higher education sector per head of population in the UK and, as economic factors push more students into deciding to study closer to home, we need more places at Magee.
“Our ambitious expansion plans for Magee have already been submitted to government and are awaiting the green light.
“I’m encouraged that the Minister, Dr Stephen Farry, has accepted our case and trust that his Executive colleagues will support him in his – and our – ambitions for Magee.”
The Vice-Chancellor will also warn of the “catastrophic economic consequences” for the future of Northern Ireland that would ensue if its university sector was to be undermined by years of underfunding.
Professor Barnett will also paint a bleak picture of the consequences of a sustained disinvestment in higher education.
“Northern Ireland would be disinvesting when almost every other country is investing.
“And, in four years or so, one in five or, perhaps, one in four seats in this hall where the graduation class of 2011 are sitting today would be empty.”