City needs more student places

Magee College.
Magee College.

A business case prepared by top consultants says that the city needs to see the expansion of both the University of Ulster and North West Regional College.

The report by RSM McClure Watters, who have been tasked with putting forward the business case for the lifting of the cap on student numbers at Magee, points out that Derry has a lower level of higher education provision than any major city on the island of Ireland.

The Minister for Education and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry has seen the presentation to the city’s Strategy Board, and been told that all of the North of Ireland would benefit from increasing higher education provision in Derry.

The business case says: “ Option 4 (i.e. expansion to 9,400 FTEs, including provision of an additional 2,490 FT undergraduate places at Ulster University + 750 additional MaSN related FTEs delivered via NWRC), is the Preferred Option.”

Gross Value Added (GVA) measures the contribution to the economy of each individual producer, industry or sector and the business case says this was £21.8m for higher education in Derry in 2013 but would be £28.6m in 2024 (NI 2013 £28.9m; 2024 £40.1m).

It adds: “This under-provision in HE results in local students leaving the North West to study elsewhere, it limits the range of skills available to North West based employers and contributes to low levels of economic productivity within the region.”

Derry has a recognised skills gap.

“Improvements in the economic climate of NI take longer to impact the North West. Recovery from the recent recession hasn’t been experienced to the same extent in Derry~Londonderry/ the NW as other areas of NI,” says the business case.

It adds that in order to achieve an expansion of full-time undergraduate provision at the University, “political support will be required for an increase in MaSN (maximum aggregate student numbers) as part of the next Comprehensive Spending Review Process”.

Aims are: Improve access to and attainment in higher education in Derry and the across the wider North West region; Develop a skills base within Derry and the wider North West Region that will support the development and growth of indigenous businesses, as well as attract investment in the region; Support the NI Executive’s policies relating to achieving balanced regional growth, delivering alternative routes to and pathways through HE, promoting the development of STEM and providing strong and coherent support for businesses; Contribute to NI’s sustainable economic growth and societal development.

Objectives are: To provide an additional 2,490 FT undergraduate places by 2021 (baseline of 3,510 by 2016) and thereby increase FT undergraduate places to 6,000; To commence student intake by 2017 and by 2024, to increase overall provision at the University’s Magee Campus to 9,400 FTEs (from a project baseline of 4,237 in 2016); To generate at least an additional £35 million of GVA per annum (at 2013 prices) within the NI economy (excluding GVA resulting from capital works).

Risks identifed in the business case included: Lack of political support; Public sector funding is not available; University is not able to generate match funding; Insufficient demand for courses to support expansion targets; Insufficient supply of students with required level of qualifications in STEM related subjects; Current university management/resource levels are insufficient to deliver projected level of expansion within the prescribed timescale; Availability of staff in required disciplines; Delay/failure in obtaining statutory approvals for new teaching and student accommodation.

The proposed expansion at Magee (Option 4) will result in an increase in DEL MasN related expenditure of an average of £19.21 million per year over the 24 year appraisal period.