Students numbers at Ulster University’s Magee campus have dropped for the latest academic year, the Derry News has learned.
Ulster University (UU) has also confirmed that steps are being mapped out before any decision is made on the relocation of health science courses.
Figures obtained by the Derry News by way of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, after UU refused to provide them, show that student numbers have dropped from 4,313 in 2018/19 to 4,237 in 2019/20 - that is both full-time and part-time students.
At Coleraine, numbers have dropped from 4,495 in 2018/19 to 4,321 this year.
It means that since 2015/16 student numbers at Magee have decreased by 861.
The proposed graduate entry medical school (GEMS) at the Derry campus is projected to have 110 students in 2029/30 if enrolments begin next year as envisaged.
Derry representatives have insisted that Health Science courses, such as physiotherapy and radiotherapy, from Jordanstown be transferred to the city to complement the GEMS.
Those courses would attract approximately 1,300 students over time and are viewed as pivotal in the push towards the desired 10,000 students.
However, all options remain on the table and the courses could end up in Coleraine or the new Belfast campus.
An Ulster University spokesperson said: “The University has gathered feedback from a range of stakeholders on the future location of its health sciences courses.
“The next steps in the process to reach a fully informed final decision will be confirmed shortly.”
Last week the Department for the Economy said “no funding” has, as yet, been formally committed by the UK or Irish Governments towards increasing undergraduate places at the Magee Campus as outlined in New Decade, New Approach.
At the end of January, DfE announced that it was committed to delivering expansion of the Belfast campus and would provide UU with a £126m bailout to complete the build.
The NI Audit Office had previously said the final cost was expected to be £100m over budget.
At the same meeting, senior DfE officials declared that UU’s business case for Magee expansion was out of date and “new money” was needed – an outcome the official said was “hard to see happening.”
A spokesperson for the Derry University Group commented: “This is a point of crisis. Commitments given to the North West in the Stormont Programme for Government (PfG) have clearly been broken by Belfast.
“The political will shown by the two governments in New Decade, New Approach, has not been reciprocated by the new administration here.
“This will have seriously damaging effects on the North West’s already-broken Higher Education sector and a devastating impact on the region’s faltering economy.”
He continued: “The generosity shown by the North West’s main political parties in re-establishing partnerships under New Decade, New Approach has been abused, very cynically – as has Council’s relationship with Ulster University.
“The two governments, and our local public representatives, cannot afford to wait any longer while the Greater Belfast Lobby bankrupts another administration. They must act immediately in the interests of the North West by overturning off-the-books bailout of UU and Belfast, and by insisting on the full implementation of the original PfG.”
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