Minister ‘discussing’ Magee growth bid

A bid for funding to expand student numbers at Magee is the subject of “ongoing discussions” in the Northern Ireland Executive, it’s been revealed.

Responding to a parliamentary question from SDLP Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey, Employment and Learning Minister Danny Kennedy has confirmed that his staff are in ongoing discussions with the Department of Finance over the move to boost students numbers at the University of Ulster campus.

Mr Kennedy also confirmed that his office has submitted a bid to support the increase in undergraduate numbers in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review.

“This is subject to ongoing discussions between my Department, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the university.”

He added that the issue was “ultimately a matter for the Assembly”.

Lobby group U4D, which is campaigning for an increase in Derry university places, estimates around £240 million a year could be generated for the local economy if Magee’s student population was allowed to grow to 10,000.

The campus first announced a target of 10,000 students in 2005. The campus currently has 3,800 students and remains the smallest of the university campuses in Northern Ireland (with the exception of the Art College). Derry has roughly one tenth of the university places available in Belfast.

Mr Ramsey said a substantial university campus in Derry is a key investment that can be made by the Executive.

Mr Ramsey added: “I have been pushing this case in the Assembly for some time now and I am pleased that the Minister has updated me on the request to lift the cap on students at the Magee campus. I submitted a written question to the Minister seeking information and he has confirmed that a Strategic Outline Case has been received from the University of Ulster to bolster its campaign for an increase in undergraduate places at the Derry campus.

“I know that DEL, the University and the Department of Finance are in ongoing discussions regarding this issue in light of the current financial difficulties, but I will be continuing to raise the issue both in the Assembly and with the Minister - the potential rewards that a rise in student numbers would give to the North West is crucial to the Ilex Regeneration Plan and I am determined to ensure that the value the University can bring to the long term economic aims of this City are realised.

“We need the Executive endorsing and supporting this hugely important Social, Economic and Regeneration Plan for the North West,” he added.

SDLP representatives spoke at length on the issue in the Assembly Chamber and to the Finance Minister on Tuesday night’s Budget debate.