Ulster University: Magee Courses

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 30th November 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP 2:45 pm, 30th November 2015

1. Mr Middleton asked the Minister for Employment and Learning how his Department will assist the Ulster University Magee campus to ensure courses are protected. (AQO 9217/11-16)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

While my Department provides funding and sets the strategic direction for the higher education sector, universities are autonomous and wholly responsible for decisions on course offerings and where the courses are delivered. The institutions are at liberty to deploy their funding across their various campuses, where applicable, and on the different courses that they offer. In deciding which courses to close or scale back, the Ulster University took a number of factors into consideration, including the priorities of my Department, such as protecting narrow STEM provision; student demand; attrition rates; student satisfaction; employment statistics; and research performance. The university has also consolidated teaching provision into its campuses to facilitate the necessary reduction of staff numbers without impacting on the quality of teaching, which remains paramount.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Later this week, I will meet the vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon to discuss these matters. Does the Minister agree that, whilst we all want to see the university at Magee expanded, it is vital that the courses that are on offer are focused on the needs and demands of the area, specifically computing and health and social care?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I wish the Member success with his meeting with the vice-chancellor. I am sure that it will be very productive. In respect of his supplementary question, the Member should take some degree of comfort that, while we are going through some very difficult times, the university has sought to consolidate particular types of courses at particular campuses rather than spreading them out. In that way, it is trying to stretch itself that little bit further to protect the range of courses that is on offer and also the number of places that can be facilitated. Indeed, it has consolidated engineering and computing into the Magee campus, which hopefully will reinforce its relevance in particular to the opportunities to expand the economy in the north-west.

Photo of Maeve McLaughlin Maeve McLaughlin Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for that update. Specifically, can he give an update on the current business case for the Magee expansion and indeed where he thinks the expansion issue will sit in the restructuring of Departments?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

First of all, with regard to the business case, we have asked for further clarification on a number of points. That request was made by my officials at the beginning of July. We have yet to receive the revised business case. I encourage those who are finalising it to get it to us as quickly as possible, given, not least, that decisions on budgets are looming. Ultimately, the issue of the expansion lies with higher education. As the Member will appreciate, higher education is set to be part of the new Department of the Economy from May 2016 onwards.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

The Minister referred to the relocation of courses to Magee. Can he say what is actually happening to psychology courses?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

My understanding is that psychology is being redirected to Coleraine. The process of consolidation at Magee is being reflected in similar decisions that are being taken with respect to the other campuses. As I have outlined already, a strategic approach is being taken that is about trying to maximise the ability to retain as many courses as possible and also to protect as many places as possible. That is a way of maximising the efficiency of the university as far as it can, operating across four different campuses.