University Minister Dr Stephen Farry has again poured cold water on hopes that 50 years after Derry was rejected as the site for a second university, Magee is finally to undergo the accelerated expansion envisaged in the One Plan.
The Minister said he doesn’t have the money to expand Magee.
But if sustainable funding did become available in the future, he says he would bid for more growth.
Despite heightened hopes heralded by the creation of a ministerial sub-group to tackle regional imbalances and focusing initially on the North West, the aspiration for a university with 9,400 full-time equivalent students by 2020, including 6,000 full-time undergraduates at Magee by 2020, remains unachievable, in Dr Farry’s eyes.
“The Derry~Londonderry Strategy Board commissioned consultants to prepare a business case to support the expansion of the Magee campus,” he said.
The first full draft of the business case was delivered to my Department on December 19.
“The business case is now being scrutinised by officials.
“My Department does not have the funds to contemplate any further expansion of the higher education sector in the current financial climate.
“In the context of the restoration of sustainable funding of the existing higher education provision, I will make a bid to the Executive for the expansion of the Magee campus should the business case make the case that this represents good value for money from a Northern Ireland perspective.”
The Provost and Dean of Academic Development at Magee, Professor Deirdre Heenan, recently warned that the number of students admitted to local universities next year was set to drop by around 1,000 and that this shrinkage was likely to continue in the years ahead under the draft budget proposals.
And last week at the Assembly, following the agreement of a budget, Dr Farry did nothing to assuage such fears, as far as Magee was concerned.
Dr Farry said: “On the university situation, I know the importance that is placed on the expansion of the Magee campus as a means to drive forward the economy and the regeneration of the North West.
“However, it has to be about investment in skills and research for Northern Ireland as a whole as well as local benefits, such as increased spending power in the economy and a stronger investment offering.”
He again promised to make a bid if “sustainable funding” became available and if a business case proved the value of such a bid.
But he added: “I think that it is important that people are very conscious of the hurdles that we have to overcome. I note with interest that
people have asked me to identify and direct some of the £20million granted in the Budget towards the expansion of Magee.
“Let me be very clear: all that that money does is reverse and reduce what was otherwise going to be an even steeper cut to my Department. As I have said in respect of further education, today we face the reality that we will struggle to preserve the places that we have.
“That will be a very difficult challenge, and I am not sure that we will achieve that, notwithstanding efforts that are being made to find other ways of balancing the Department’s books.”