NORTHERN IRELAND's educational "village" has got the go-ahead, after seven years of delay.
In what is almost certainly one of the last acts before Ulster's short-lived assembly is suspended, Dr Sean Farren, minister for higher and further education, hasapproved Springvale Educational Village.
The village is intended to cater for 4,500 full and part-time students, in a novel institution combining community, further and higher education and training.
The Government will contribute pound;40 million of the pound;70m cost; the other pound;30m has been raised privately. Springvale will be managed by a board representing the University of Ulster, Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education and the disadvantaged community in north and west Belfast.
To counter any in-fighting between the university and institute, the minister has appointed Gerry Kelly, former chief exective of the Southern Education and Library Board, as chairman.
Springvale is intended to embody the "seamless robe" and clear progression proposed by Sir Ron Dearing in his post-16 Report. It will include:
* An outreach centre to stimulate access to education and training and serve as a focus for the University for Industry;
* A campus offering courses relevant to the economy such as informatics, and tourism; and
* An applied research centre to stimulate inward investment and develop local companies.
Dr Farren said the decision showed what the two-month-old executive could do for Ulster.
Professor Patrick Murphy, director of the institute, praised the speed of the minister's decision. He said: "It is sad that while progress is being made in education, the political institutions which made that possible now appear to be threatened."