University of Ulster: Magee Expansion

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:15 pm on 17th September 2013.

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Photo of Maeve McLaughlin Maeve McLaughlin Sinn Féin 5:15 pm, 17th September 2013

Go raibh maith agat.  I welcome the opportunity to bring this Adjournment debate to the House.  I suppose that it is a direct follow-on from the Public Petition on the expansion of the University of Ulster at Magee that was presented to the House in June. 

It is important to put the expansion issue into context.  The city's One Plan was developed and launched in 2011 through a very lengthy participative process and one that the city and region had probably not seen before.  It involved hundreds of individuals and groups from across the public, private, community, voluntary and political sectors as well as individual residents from across the city and region.  The result was a mission statement that placed equality at the heart of regeneration. 

The final One Plan featured a range of interdependent catalyst programmes for the economic, social and physical regeneration that is required to target the needs and inequalities that exist in the north-west.  To fulfill the economic, social and physical regeneration ambition of the One Plan, the explicit institutional targets for higher education expansion in Derry need to be met by 2020. 

I welcome the Minister's intervention to date and, indeed, the progress that has been made to attain the interim target of 1,000 extra maximum student number (MaSN) places by 2015.  Thankfully, we are well on our way to meeting that interim target.  However, the project needs additional momentum, collaboration and focus to ensure that the scale and timeline of the One Plan's objectives for Magee are met in full.  Those objectives are 9,400 full-time students, including 6,000 full-time undergraduate students.

The consultation and engagement that I referred to, and the findings of the One Plan process on HE expansion, are robust.  However, there is a need to reinvigorate and strengthen the coalition around the One Plan action for university expansion.  The imperative now is to deliver that which was agreed during the process.  A Magee implementation body is to be set up to provide the impetus needed to deliver the agreed 9,400 objective.  It is right and proper that the implementation body is led by the University of Ulster in partnership with the local authority.  The implementation body will not be stand-alone; it will be constituted as a subcommittee of the city strategy board, which will, therefore, provide the democratic legitimacy and the policy oversight for the project.  It will report directly to the city strategy board and will be scrutinised by it.

The implementation body's objective is to carry out the economic analysis, and there has been much debate over recent months about the merit of the economic analysis or business case that may be required.  The implementation body will look at the economic analysis/business case preparation and business planning work required to support the implementation of the agreed vision for the expansion of the University of Ulster at Magee, including the attainment by 2020 of the following milestones:  9,400 full-time students, including 6,000 MaSN students; a viable portfolio of courses reflective of the needs of the 21st-century economy; the establishment of a teaching and research foundation for a medical school in conjunction with Altnagelvin/Western Health and Social Care Trust; an enhanced research portfolio providing a foundation for teaching excellence, local and inward spin/outward investment as an attractor to mobile academic and research staff; and, of course, access pathways, through further education for those disadvantaged and vocational students who might otherwise be excluded from higher education.

The Minister for Employment and Learning, in a response dated 18 July 2013, stated:

"If a proposal were to be taken forward to expand the Magee campus in line with the vision set out in the One Plan, then a full economic appraisal would be required."

As a city, we welcome that clarity, and we ask the Minister for Employment and Learning to support the new implementation body in commissioning the business case.  We seek the Department's engagement on the implementation board, and we also seek that its departmental delivery plan will include the expansion of the university at Magee.