Uni expansion ‘critical’ to Derry’s regeneration

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The Journal can today reveal details of the ambitious expansion plans for the Magee campus of the University of Ulster.

The outline business case for the project - undertaken by accountants RSM McClure Watters - is due to be discussed today at a meeting of the city’s Strategy Board.

The Journal has obtained a copy of this ‘phase one report’ which assesses the need and demand for increased university provision in Derry.

As anticipated, it concludes that, in line with the targets of the ‘One Plan’ - the regeneration blueprint for the city - there is a “clear and urgent” case for increasing student numbers at Magee to 9,400 full time places by 2020.

Of this figure, 6,000 will be full time undergraduate places.

As a result, full time undergraduate places at Magee will increase by around 2,490, with the balance providing for part-time and post-graduate study.

Expansion of the university in Derry, the report adds, is “critical” to the regeneration of the city and the economic success of Northern Ireland and is likely to have a “transformative effect” on the NW economy.

The report has identified that higher education provision in Derry should focus on “emerging areas of sectoral strength and opportunities for growth” such as: engineering, ICT, renewable energies/sustainable technologies, health technologies and innovation, creative industries, data science and analysis and the STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths.

The ‘phase one report’ also concludes that not only does Derry have the lowest level of higher education provision of any major city in Ireland but is also lower compared to similar sized cities or second cities in other regions of the UK.

This under-provision, the report states, results in local students leaving the NW to study elsewhere, limits the range of skills available to locally based employers and contributes to low level of economic productivity within the region.

Meanwhile, it has also emerged that the Strategy Board has written to Stormont Employment and Learning Minister Minister Stephen Farry inviting him to attend a future meeting of the body to discuss the university expansion issue.

A similar invitation has been extended to First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

It’s understood a full business case for the Magee expansion project will be submitted to the Department of Employment and Learning later in the year.