Magee expansion plan 'fanciful' - Farry

Magee expansion plan 'fanciful' - Farry

Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry has said any plan to expand the University of Ulster Magee campus is "fanciful" following cuts to his department's budget.

A campaign has been ongoing in Londonderry to expand the Magee campus as it is believed it would rejuvenate the economy and local area.But last week at Stormont, a £78m reduction to the departmental resource budgets was announced in the June Monitoring Round and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) took one of the biggest hits - £16.3m with a further reduction of £18m anticipated in autumn.In the immediate term, plans to have a total of 1,000 new undergraduate places by next year have been shelved.The Employment Minister has said the university was aware of the scale of cuts that were coming and an expansion is no longer feasible."This is very simple, the money simply isn't there, we have massive mismanagement in Northern Ireland at present, it's compounded by the utter denial of reality by the SDLP and Sinn Féin with regards to welfare reform," the Alliance MLA said."My department's facing an in-year cut of 4.4%, the universities will have to take a share of that."So in the context where their budgets are shrinking, they themselves will have to take on tough decisions on how they manage these cuts. The notion that we would seek to expand a university is utterly fanciful."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.Employment and Learning Minister Stephen FarrySinn Féin and the SDLP were involved in a protest on Friday at the campus following the news.SDLP Mayor Brenda Stevenson said at the rally: "We saw what happened back in the 70s when the university went to Coleraine and the impact that's had on our city economically over the last four years, we are not allowing this to continue."Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the expansion of Magee needs to proceed as planned."Comments by Stephen Farry in relation to Magee are outrageous and irresponsible," the Sinn Féin MLA said."Any decision on this issue is clearly controversial, has serious equality implications and will therefore need to come to the Executive where Sinn Féin will robustly challenge the DEL Minister's position."Sinn Féin is totally committed to the resourcing and expansion of Magee. I intend to raise this issue at the first meeting of the Executive in September."NUS-USI President Rebecca Hall has said that Minister Farry must deliver on the plan."Also, the number of university places should be expanded - there can be no cut in student places," she said."The Minister's comments are extremely troubling. We need investment in students to help deliver the best possible educational outcomes and to help grow our economy."Students must not become the victims of any failure of government on agreeing on budgetary issues."


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