A political storm has erupted in Northern Ireland over plans by Queen's University Belfast to close a campus not far from the border with the Irish Republic.
The "outreach" campus in the province's ecclesiastical capital of Armagh, which has provision for cross-border students as well as part-time and postgraduate courses, was launched in a blaze of publicity almost ten years ago. The Armagh centre was viewed as a symbol of peacetime Ulster.
But the site was a significant drain on central resources as it failed to recruit the necessary number of students. Queen's refused to disclose the shortfall figures.
Both unionist and nationalist parties united to demand that the university should rethink the closure.
Danny Kennedy, the Ulster Unionist education spokesman, attacked Queen's for failing to consult over the "devastating" announcement.
And Dominic Bradley, the SDLP education spokesman, said the university should be reaching out rather than pulling back and demanded a rethink.
Community groups and the city council are expected to try to save the campus from closure.
But John Cousins, director of the university pressure group QUB Watch, said the campus should not have opened in the first place and now Queen's could cut its losses and spend the money more wisely centrally.
The university refused to confirm any intention to shut down the Armagh campus but senior sources close to the university said it might withdraw by as early as next summer.
Queen's said it was proud of what it had achieved but student numbers in Armagh "have been disappointing and have not met expectations".
A final decision will have to go before the university's ruling senate, but private talks have already begun with the local further education institute to see if it could take over some of the teaching provision.
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