McGill keeps focus on Strabane Further Education deficit issue
West Tyrone Sinn Féin MLA Claire McGill accompanied by Pat Doherty MP met with Department for Employment & Learning (DEL) Permanent Secretary Dr Aideen McGinley at Stormont last Tuesday as part of a continued lobby to have the glaring deficit in Further Education investment and provision in Strabane District addressed.
Speaking following the meeting Claire McGill said,
"Some progress was made during this meeting but a substantial body of work needs to be now done both at a departmental level and at the Governing Body level of the North West Regional College to ensure that Strabane secures its fair share of FE investment and provision. We pressed Aideen McGinley to outline DELs plans for capital investment in Strabane and on what measures are being put in place to build up the local FE sector in the interim
"The DEL Permanent Secretary confirmed to us that £10-12 million has been earmarked for capital investment in FE facilities in Strabane but this will not become available until at least 2011 and even then it will be subject to a robust Business Plan being submitted by the North West Regional College to ensure a successful bid.
"It is clear that what DEL means by a robust business case is that a proven demand is established for a wide profile of courses to be delivered within the Strabane campus.
"However, the fact is that due to the historical lack of capital investment in Strabane FE facilities and the existence of state of the art FE facilities in our neighbouring towns of Derry, Omagh and Limavady most FE students from the District are being forced to travel outside the District a trend illustrated by the fact that the Strabane campus of the North West Regional College was only able to provide 3 full time FE courses in 2007/08 compared to 152 at the Derry Campus and 52 at Limavady Campus.
"A chicken and egg scenario has therefore developed whereby we are being told that a robust Business Plan must be put in place to secure capital funding but, in the absence of 'fit for purpose facilities,' it will be difficult to attract more courses and students to Strabane. A further concern is that in recent days serious concern has been expressed to me from credible sources about the future of 'night time classes' provision at the Strabane campus.
"Therefore, a large body of work now needs to be carried by all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the current situation is turned around with a special focus on building up a robust Business Plan.
"This includes: the need for essential repairs to be carried out to Strabane Technical College; securing current FE provision at the Strabane campus, and building up the profile of FE provision in Strabane both in the interim and long term including exploring issues like: the establishment 'core courses,' at the Strabane campus (especially construction and retail related courses), the rebalancing of course provision within the North West Regional College campuses; the delivery in Strabane of niche or specialized courses not available elsewhere.
"From our meeting with DR Aideen McGinley, we have been given a commitment that her Department will bring a renewed focus to the Strabane Campus issue and I will be continuing to engage with all the key stakeholders in the coming weeks to ensure that the glaring deficit in FE provision in Strabane is addressed." ENDS