The fight to expand the Magee Campus is to continue after pleas for all of the 500 extra undergraduate places for Northern Ireland to be allocated to Derry were ignored.
Disappointment greeted Friday’s announcement by Education and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry that only 250 of the extra undergraduate places agreed by the Executive would be given to the University of Ulster. The university had earlier pledged that any places allocated to it would go directly to Magee.
The minister’s decision came just a day after a high level delegation from the city lobbied him directly for the places to be allocated in Derry.
However, after revealing his decision, the minister maintained he did not ignore the eleventh hour plea by the local delegation council. He added it was never going to be the case that all of the places would go to the university.
There was “never any expectation” that the University of Ulster would be awarded all the places. He said that university got “a share above and beyond” what could be expected.
“At no stage was there any realistic expectation that Derry and Magee would be getting places on an exclusive basis and if anything they got more than their proportional share compared to the rest of Northern Ireland.”
However, the decision did cause disappointment as the University of Ulster was the only institution to submit a business case for expansion in student numbers.
Padraig Canavan of U4D said his “feelings are mixed in this”, adding that while he welcomed the allocation of the 250 places he would have liked for more to be allocated. But he added that he was “confident” that the campaign to expand the university would be a success.
He said it was very clear of the many measures investigated to boost the economy that “the single biggest thing that can be done” is to expand the university to 10,000 students.
Magee Provost Deirdre Heenan welcomed the additional places but said the university remained committed to the student expansion plan outlined in the ONE Plan.
“In line with the University’s corporate plan, we will be using the additional 250 places allocated to us to further expand undergraduate STEM provision on our Magee campus.
“We remain committed to the achievement of the objectives in the One Plan, and will continue to work with civic, business and political leaders in the city to develop our Magee campus.”
SDLP Employment and Learning Spokesperson Pat Ramsey has said the Executive must show leadership in ensuring that Derry is not overlooked in the future allocation of university places.
“While we are very welcoming of the additional numbers of places coming to UU, there is still a very real need to both protect and expand the capacity of the Magee Campus.
He is calling on the minister to outline how the places were allocated. He added: “Most importantly, I am calling on the Executive to demonstrate real leadership in promoting the educational output of the North-West by ringfencing places for Magee in future decisions taken on changing the current Maximum Aggregate Student Number.
“The young people of Derry, not to mention those from further afield who wish to study in Derry, deserve nothing less.”
Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin welcomed the move as “a step forward” but added that more needs to be done to attract yet more undergraduate places in the future.
Commenting on the announcement of 250 new places for University of Ulster Magee campus Maeve McLaughlin said,
“The announcement today by Stephen Farry that 250 extra places have been allocated to Magee campus has to be seen as a step forward in the campaign.
“I am particularly pleased that these places will be allocated across the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects.“There can be no room for complacency or party politicking on this issue. We must demonstrate a strong case for Derry as a ‘priority’ area and Magee as a catalyst project for Derry City’s ‘One Plan’ regeneration strategy and do so with one clear voice.