Last week the Northern Ireland Executive announced a £200 million initiative to stimulate jobs and the economy. In that package, Stormont ministers announced that the Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry would have an additional 500 full-time undergraduate places in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to allocate.
By Professor Deirdre Heenan, Pro Vice-Chancellor Communications, Provost Magee and Coleraine.
The University of Ulster immediately welcomed the announcement and reiterated its stated position that any additional new undergraduate places we were given would be based on our Magee campus. This is in line with our business case for expansion at Magee (approved by Department for Employment and Learning in Autumn 2010) and our commitments within the ‘One Plan’.
However, since the Stormont Executive’s announcement there appears to be some confusion as to the implications of last week’s news.
Unless people properly grasp and act on what is at stake, there is a real danger we will see a repeat performance of what happened in December 2011 when Minister Farry and DEL had 700 additional STEM places to allocate. On that occasion, Dr Farry gave the University of Ulster only 322 of the 700 additional STEM places available (all placed at Magee). That was just 14 places more than Queen’s, even though that institution, unlike the University of Ulster had never sought or argued to increase its undergraduate numbers in Belfast. The remaining 70 STEM places last year went to the Further Education Colleges.
So let us be clear. The NI Executive announced last week that there would 500 new STEM undergraduate places: The University of Ulster has stated unequivocally that all of its allocation from this 500 will be placed at Magee.
To avoid a repeat of what happened in December 2011 we would urge all politicians, civic leaders and those with influence to join with the University and persuade and lobby the Minister to allocate all of the new student places to the University of Ulster.
We believe there is a unassailable case for the 500 new STEM places to go to Magee. Not just because we are the only higher education institution to have an approved business case for additional full-time undergraduate numbers, but crucially also the expansion of the Magee campus is universally acknowledged as one of the key drivers for the regeneration of the city and region. The One Plan notes that it has the potential to generate a significant and catalytic impact on the local economy in terms of skills and jobs.
Failure to speak to DEL with one voice on securing these STEM places will only further frustrate everyone’s ambitions for the Magee campus, this city and the region.