U4D urge candidates to fight for university

The University for Derry (U4D) group has called on local politicians to ensure that after 50 years, Derry really will be a university city within the near future - meeting the commitments in the One Plan.

Speaking to the Derry Journal yesterday afternoon, U4D Chair Padraig Canavan said the up-and-coming Westminster general election in May was a perfect opportunity for local voters to ask candidates how they intend to transform Derry into a recognised university city.

“Fifty years is too long to wait,” said Mr. Canavan.

“We call on all candidates for this year’s General Election in this region to pledge themselves to doing all they can to ensure that Derry has a full sized university by 2020, with the 9,400 full time equivalent students as envisaged in the One Plan.”

Mr. Canavan went on to call on candidates standing in next year’s Assembly election to put the issue of a university for Derry at the very top of the agenda.

“We also call on all potential candidates for next year’s MLA elections to pledge that they will vote in the resources at the Assembly to make it happen.

“The city is impatient to see the realisation of a lifetime’s demand.”

Fifty years ago today the Lockwood Report was published and surprisingly recommended Coleraine as the location for the North of Ireland’s second university.

Many believe the controversial decision was a political one which resulted in decades of under-investment and economic stagnation in Derry.

A campaign titled, ‘50 Years On - Let’s Get It Done’ was launched on both Twitter and Facebook recently.

The campaign’s focus is to see the expansion of the University of Ulster campus at Magee.

A spokesperson for the new lobby group said the “infamous” Lockwood Report “shamefully recommended the sighting of a new university campus in Coleraine, turning its back on the obvious choice of Derry’s Magee College”.

He added: “Five decades on and people are rightly asking how much has changed. Report after report urges major investment at Magee as a catalyst for economic and social growth in our city, yet its development has been slow and meagre. We demand the One Plan’s promise of 10,000 plus places be upheld. Fifty years on our message is clear: expand Magee now.”

A Department for Employment and Learning spokeswoman said the Minister was “committed to taking forward the expansion of Magee and recognises the importance of this in terms of regenerating the economy in the North West” but said the Department was facing £62million worth of budget cuts.

“The business case for the proposed £11m capital funds for the teaching block has been approved by DEL and is currently with the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP). If approval is received from DFP, the Department intends to put in a bid during financial year 2015-16. Given the timing of the business case approval and the intentions of Ulster University around construction spend, the earliest opportunity is likely to be the June Monitoring Round.”

She added: “Since taking up office the Minister has increased the number of undergraduate places at our two universities by 1,210 and 652 of these went to the University of Ulster for its Magee campus. This expansion has gone some way to meet the interim target set out in the One Plan. And DEL will continue to process bids for capital projects that are currently in the pipeline from the University of Ulster, including the Magee campus, in the normal way.”