Ulster University has confirmed that it is ‘actively preparing’ for additional student places on some of the most popular courses at its Magee campus.
It comes after this week’s A-level results changes that mean many students will be awarded higher teacher assessed grades.
As a result universities will have to offer additional places with Queens University Belfast (QUB) saying it may need up to 1,000 extra.
That will necessitate the lifting of the maximum student numbers (MaSN) cap.
However, at yesterday's Economy Committee meeting at Stormont, Derry MLAs Gary Middleton and Sinead McLaughlin raised concerns that if the correct decisions aren't made it could lead to further regional imbalance with more students enrolling in Belfast courses.
DUP MLA Gary Middleton said there are several hundred unfilled places at Magee.
While, SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin said that if Ulster University wants to see growth at Magee it has to be 'engineered' through the relocation of courses and the university has to invest in the marketing of the campus.
The Department for the Economy (DfE) controls the number of undergraduate places available at QUB and Ulster University (UU) for students from NI and those from outside the UK.
Both institutions are allowed to accept between 3,000-3,500 new undergraduates from Northern Ireland every year
The cap exists in Northern Ireland in order to keep tuition fee costs down but results in huge competition for places.
It also means that on some courses NI students are expected to get higher grades than their counterparts applying from Great Britain.
Derry politicians have called for the MaSN cap to be lifted to allow universities to accommodate more students.
They’ve insisted that the Magee campus should be prioritised, citing long-promised expansion to 10,000 students.
However, it is courses that will determine demand and in turn additional places.
A UU spokesperson said that it envisages increased demand for Magee courses such as Computer Sciences, Artificial Intelligence and Personalised Medicine.
She commented: “At Ulster University, students are our absolute priority and we will be as flexible as possible in order to accommodate the maximum number of students possible within our existing funding and the additional flexibility already provided by Department for the Economy.
“We are actively preparing for the anticipated additional demand by building in additional places for some of our most popular courses including Computer Sciences, Artificial Intelligence, Engineering, Law, Accounting, and Personalised Medicine.
“To avail of these additional places, we urge students to contact us as soon as possible on 028 7028 7028 to discuss your options with an advisor.”
The DfE pointed out that responsibility for MaSN allocation lies with Higher Education institutions.
A spokesperson for the DfE said: “Until the local universities have received access to the full range of revised grades for all applicant students, they will not be able to confirm places for students or otherwise.
“As such, until this process has been completed, there is no way of assessing the number of any additional HE places there may be, nor what the impact might be for each HE institution with regards to their respective MaSNs.”
She added: “With regards to the MaSN cap, it is allocated on an institutional-level basis and relates to all full-time undergraduate NI and EU domiciled students; it is for each institution to decide how to allocate its MaSN across both subject areas and campuses.
“The Economy Minister has stated that she will be working with Executive colleagues to ensure that additional places and extra resources are put in place to support universities as soon as possible.
“Enrolments for previous years are available at https://www.economy-ni.gov.uk/articles/higher-education-enrolments”
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