Ulster University: Increasing student numbers to 7,500 in Derry will require capital investment of £385m

Numbers at Magee “up significantly” particularly from international and GB students, new economy minister told

Magee should be given its independence, taking its place alongside Ireland’s universities, ancient and modern. Picture by Nigel McDowell/Ulster University
Ulster University currently estimates capital investment of around £385m is required to develop a campus in Derry that can accommodate 7,500 students.

Ulster University estimate that developing a campus in Derry capable of accommodating 7,500 students will require a capital investment of around £385 million.

Student numbers at the Magee campus are now well above 5,000, according to a briefing delivered to Stormont’s new economy minister Conor Murphy.

The executive committed to expanding the numbers to 10,000 students, alongside a new graduate entry medical school in Derry, as part of the 2020 New Decade New Approach (NDNA) agreement.

The ‘first day brief’ presented to Mr Murphy last month, said numbers at the Ulster University (UU) campus in Derry are “up significantly on previous years, particularly from international and GB students”.

That is largely due to UU’ moving health sciences provision from Jordanstown to Derry for the 2021 launch of the graduate entry medical school.

It’s expected that numbers will continue to grow “as increased cohorts progress up the years”.

But supporting the growth will take considerable capital investment, UU has informed the Department for the Economy (DfE).

It currently estimates that capital investment of around £385m will be needed to develop its Derry campus to support 7,500 learners.

The figure includes funding from the Derry City and Strabane District Council Deal (DCSDC).

But it also factors in expansion of the campus ‘via site optimisation’; a new teaching block, refurbishment of existing space a virtual production studio; new student accommodation, both on campus and in the city centre; and new sports facilities.

UU has committed around £50m as part of that investment to date.

New medical school in Derry
New medical school in Derry The Magee Campus of Ulster University in Derry will receive investment (Liam McBurney/PA)

As part of its NDNA commitment, the Irish government last year announced £38m from the Shared Island Fund for a new teaching and student-services building at Magee, which could see the numbers grow from 5,000 to around 6,500.

The UK government and the executive have jointly committed £210m of investment via the DCSDC.

Another £40m has been committed by the council and other partners, including UU.

But while the university campus is a core part of the deal, the funding is earmarked for a variety of schemes and initiatives.

The briefing paper presented to the economy minister also said progress on the Derry and Strabane city deal had been slower than anticipated and “is beginning to cause some frustration at council level”.

It said the delays were primarily due to the time UU has taken to submit business cases, adding that “cost inflation” has also become a key issue.

Heads of terms for the city deal were signed in February 2021, but only one project has been approved: The North Atlantic (DNA) Maritime Museum.

Outline business cases for a £35m Cognitive Analytics and Digital Robotics Innovation Centre (CADRIC) and a new £15m further education college in Strabane have recently been received.

DfE said it is continuing to work with the Department of Health (DoH) and UU on the business case for the graduate medical school.

A business case is expected to be submitted by UU to DoH in the fourth quarter of 2023/24.

The briefing paper adds that a key issue for DoH “will be revenue funding for UU’s proposed student numbers”.

The brief also acknowledged UU “is now more bullish” about expanding Magee, but suggests achieving 10,000 students may only “be possible in the long term”.

It also points out that an increase in new students (assuming places are not moved from other campuses), “will require significant recurrent funding unless there are changes to the funding model which requires teaching grant to subsidise places”.

The same briefing states that increasing tuition fees in the north from £4,710 to match fees in Britain (£9,250), would generate around £98m.

But Conor Murphy has already ruled out increasing tuition fees.