Magee expansion - Minister not backing down and says “this is the reality we are now in”

Stephen Farry, Minister for Employment and Learning.
Stephen Farry, Minister for Employment and Learning.

In relation to the expansion of the University of Ulster’s Magee Campus, The Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry has, this afternoon, stated:

“My Department has a central focus on investing in skills. If transforming our economy is to genuinely be the top priority for the Executive, then investments in skills, as a key economic driver, must be adequately resourced.

“The budget of my Department has been reduced by £16.3million in the June monitoring round, with a further reduction of £18million anticipated in the autumn. If Departments are to be responsible in the context in which we find ourselves, we must plan for all of these cuts now.

“Together these cuts amount to 4.4% of my budget. They are happening at a time when we are already over a third of the way into the Financial Year. There is also great uncertainty regarding what the budget for next year holds in store. I have no alternative but to pass on an element of these cuts to our universities. Consequently the Department has already informed the higher education institutions that their grant for the current academic year will be reduced by almost 4%.

“It will be for the universities themselves as independent organisations to make their own decisions on how these cuts will be implemented. However, it must be recognised that given the nature of funding decisions taken locally, including the important decision that was made by the Executive to freeze tuition fees in real terms for NI students at local institutions, our universities are more dependent upon state funding than their counterparts elsewhere. Our universities are critical partners in producing higher level skills and developing the local research base, and it is on this basis that we seek to attract inward investment and to grow local companies. Difficult choices now lie ahead, especially if we are to protect and maintain the quality of higher education in Northern Ireland. Since taking up office I have increased the number of undergraduate places at our two universities by 1,210 and 652 of these went to the University of Ulster for its Magee campus. I have also increased the number of higher education places in our further education colleges by 377. This expansion has gone some way to meet the interim target set out in the One Plan.

“Any further expansion of higher education would require significant funding, and any such investment would involve recurrent expenditure. However under the current budget circumstances, this will simply not be possible for the foreseeable future.

“It is into this context that any business case would be submitted to my Department as a basis for a future bid for additional student places for the University of Ulster to expand Magee. That cannot be considered at a time when cuts are being made. This is the reality that we are now in.

It always remains open to the University of Ulster to reallocate their existing student numbers across their existing campuses, including moving student numbers to Magee.”