Derry councillors have called on Ulster University to be ‘open and honest’ about student numbers at Magee campus after the Vice Chancellor gave the impression of ‘continuous growth’.
Speaking at a Council meeting last week, UU Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Bartholomew said there are 4,498 students at Magee this year.
Professor Bartholomew went on to say that student numbers were up 85 on five years ago and up 930 compared to 2008/09.
The implication was continuous growth over the past decade.
He added, ‘that’s significant and some people might find that surprising’.
FOI responses obtained by the Derry News prove there has not been continuous growth.
Rather than increasing by 85 over the past five years, numbers at Magee have dropped by 600 since 2015.
In 2014/15 students at Magee totalled 5,098 of which 3,383 were full-time – that is the highest they’ve ever been.
Over the past ten years student numbers at Coleraine have remained consistently higher than Magee despite the town being around one quarter of the size of Derry City.
This year is the first time Magee's numbers have crept above Coleraine. (Updated from today's paper because the latest figures were provided after its publication).
However, three times as many administrative staff are based at the County Derry campus.
Meanwhile, Ulster University’s Belfast campuses have over 15,000 students.
SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell, who was at last week’s meeting, said it is important that Ulster University is ‘open and honest’ about student numbers at Magee.
“The Vice Chancellor quoted figures that suggested sustained growth at the campus since 2008, but neglected to tell us that numbers have fallen by 600 since 2014/15.
“Our interim ambition is 10,000 students at Magee, as detailed in New Decade, New Approach, and this will require a co-ordinated approach by Ulster University and the Executive,” he added.
People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin described the comments made by Professor Bartholomew as ‘disappointing and extremely concerning on a number of fronts’.
“He seems to be completely out of sync with the commitments in Stormont's New Decade New Approach to increase Magee to 10,000 students.
“He also implied there's been continuous growth in student numbers over the last decade.”
As referenced by both representatives, Professor Bartholomew told councillors that growth to 6,000 students is ‘broadly achievable’.
That is the target by 2022/23 with the addition of Health Science courses, the medical school, a new paramedics course and ‘growth in existing courses’, he suggested.
However, he said 6,000 would be the ceiling unless there are wholesale changes to the way higher education is funded in Northern Ireland.
To do that would require the removal of the maximum student numbers cap which would likely result in increased student fees in Northern Ireland.
Public representatives were underwhelmed by the aspiration for 6,000 students.
The ambition has been 10,000 full-time students at Magee and that is the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) commitment.
Simon Coveney (below), Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, along with British MP Julian Smith published the NDNA text to restore devolved government in NI.
Recently, in a direct response to a Derry native on Twitter, Mr Coveney reaffirmed his commitment to the North West.
He gave assurances that he has ‘not forgotten about Derry’ and said the Irish Government will ‘fully follow through’ on commitments made.
The Irish Government promised to invest in ‘new higher education provision in Derry’ and ‘capital investment to support expanded provision at Ulster University Magee Campus’.
The Derry News asked the Mr Coveney and the Irish government whether it is now going to take a more active role in delivering a full-sized NW university and what practical steps it will take.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Irish Government welcomes the development of plans for ambitious new higher education provision at the UU Magee Campus in Derry, including in the context of the UK Government’s City Deal and Inclusive Future Fund initiative which is being advanced by Derry City and Strabane District Council.
“This investment has the potential to increase access to third-level education for young people on a cross-border basis, enable further cooperation between third-level institutions in the North West and underpin broader economic development and opportunities in the region.
“Senior officials from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy recently met and discussed Higher Education provision in the North West region.”
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