The government has accepted the case for increasing the number of higher education places in Northern Ireland and encouraging greater diversity of provision.
This follows research showing that Northern Ireland would need 12,000 new places to meet Scottish levels and 5,300 to reach the Welsh levels of participation. The Northern Ireland Higher Education Council estimates that the outflow of students drains Pounds 45 million annually from the local economy; it wants 8,000-12,000 new full-time places by 2003.
But the Strategic Plan for Education 1996-2000, launched by education minister Michael Ancram this week, argues that "the pace at which it will be possible to proceed will be constrained by affordability". Priority will be given to developments which provide opportunities for wider participation within existing resources and encourage institutions to co-operate more closely.
There is still no news about the University of Ulster's proposed Springvale campus in West Belfast. When he spoke to journalists after launching the plan, Mr Ancram, said only that ministers are still considering it.
A group is being appointed to develop a Northern Ireland credit accumulation and transfer system to promote freer movement. UU's summer teaching scheme will be reviewed to see if it can provide opportunities for expansion. Universities are urged to improve links with further education and to work with district councils to improve access in remote areas. The plan said: "An increasingly co-operative and collaborative tertiary sector of education is likely to emerge over the short to medium term."