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First fruits of the peace deal

Ministers will soon give the go-ahead to a radical combined university and further education building in West Belfast.

It will be presented as one of the first results of the Northern Ireland peace deal signed last weekend, though it was likely to be approved anyway.

An economic appraisal completed a fortnight ago found that the pound;72 million campus would be pound;9m more expensive than the cheapest option to expand places, but the gap may be met with funding from the United States.

An earlier pound;98m plan by the University of Ulster has been abandoned in favour of one run jointly by UU and Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education. It will have a research centre for the university and a community education headquarters for BIFHE and will be a model of the Dearing report's seamless post-16 progression.

The two institutions will provide the equivalent of 3,000 full-time places in catering, tourism, hospitality, the arts and other subjects. Students will be able to move freely from one level to another or switch courses.

Apart from closer links between further and higher education, Dearing recommended an extra 5,000 higher education places in Northern Ireland. The new-style institution will leave scope for expansion elsewhere.

The favoured options are: more higher education work in the 16 FE colleges outside Belfast; expansion at Queen's University; and a widening of the remit of teacher education college.

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