Refusal to remove cap on Derry uni places slammed

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has criticised the Economy Minister, Gordon Lyons for his ‘refusal’ to remove the Maximum Number Student (MaSN) cap at the University of Ulster’s Magee Campus.

Mr Durkan said the failure to act on the restrictions was hampering the delivery of the promised 10,000 student places under the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

The University’s own move to relocate over 900 student places in health sciences to Magee this year has been widely welcomed, but the increased numbers still fall well short of what successive Northern Ireland government administrations have promised for the future.

In response an Assembly Question tabled by Mr Durkan, Minister Lyons stated that funding is not available now or in the near future to remove this measure.

Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

The Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan claimed: “This response is wholly unacceptable; not only does this reply display a lack of ambition but also hints at a complete lack of ministerial will to deliver university expansion in the North West.

“Minister Lyons remains steadfast to the status quo of his predecessors. There is no denying that the MaSN cap has been restrictive and prevented the expansion of the student cohort at Magee. I’m disappointed but sadly not surprised with the Economy Minister’s response that there is unlikely to be any progress on this matter in the near future. Resigning oneself to this monolithic, ‘can’t do’ attitude is simply not good enough.

“For far too long the successive Economy Ministers and the Executive have dragged their heels on working to expand university provision in our city, when challenged on their failure to provide additional student places in the North West, ministers have skirted around the issue. The abject failure to expand university provision in this city is symptomatic of a failed economic policy, one which fails to address evident regional imbalance.”

Mr Durkan said his party had been instrumental in securing ‘positive steps’ like the Magee medical school and a commitment to 10,000 students, but said has yet to be realised “and we have so much work still to do”. “Progress has moved at a snail’s pace. Considering the transformational impact university expansion would have in the North West and the local economy, I cannot fathom why after a 50 year-long campaign, this provision is yet to be delivered.

The Magee campus of Ulster University. (Brendan McDaid/ Derry Journal)

“Every opportunity should be explored to help drive this change forward, even if that means looking towards an independent body. It’s time for both governments North and South to step in and step up to deliver their long overdue commitment to a properly resourced, thriving university in Derry,” he added.

In his response, Minister Lyons said: “Ulster University welcomed its first cohort of students to its Graduate Entry Medical School in August 2021, and will enrol a further intake for Academic Year 2022/23 as well as students on its undergraduate Health Sciences programme which is relocating from the Jordanstown campus. My Department is in discussion with the University in relation to its strategic objectives for growth across all its campuses.

“Given the budgetary situation there is no, nor likely to be in the near future, funding available to remove the Maximum Student Number cap which acts as a cost control measure.”