Learning Minister Stephen Farry said the Executive was to blame for the failure to reach the One Plan’s key target of 1,000 additional places for Derry by this year.
The Minister recently wrote to Derry & Strabane Council reiterating his support for the expansion of Ulster University’s Magee campus, but adding that he didn’t have the money to make it a reality.
Ulster University last night confirmed to the Journal that 577 new undergraduate places created for Magee to date- less than 60% of the target.
The inability to reach the first major One Plan education milestone has been blamed on the Executive’s financial carve up. It is now feared this could have implications for the One Plan’s central economic goal - to grow full-time undergraduate places to 9,400 by 2020.
Writing in response to a motion passed by Derry City & Strabane District Council, Mr Farry said: “As the Minister responsible for higher education I would tend to agree with the sentiments of the motion.
“I support the expansion of the Magee campus along the lines outlined in the One Plan. To date I have been able to allocate additional undergraduate places to Ulster University for deployment at Magee.
“I was hopeful of achieving the One Plan interim target of an additional 1,000 places by 2015 but the current budget settlement agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive has worked against this.”
His response was brought before the May end of month meeting of Derry & Strabane Council, three months after Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly had proposed a motion that the Council would demand that the development of a fit-for-purpose university for the Northwest would be the number one priority in the next Programme for Government.
“This Council will accept no more false dawns or promises,” the motion stated.
John Kelpie, Chief Executive of Derry City & Strabane District Council, subsequently relayed the council’s stance to the Department for Employment and Learning and the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
Mr Farry also said that consultants were still working on the business case for the expansion and that if it stacks up he will make a bid for funding in the next spending review.
“My Department does not have the resources to fund the expansion. The Executive would need to prioritise the expansion and set funds aside to bring this about.”