Ulster University cuts: Postgraduate law course at Magee scrapped

Magee College.
Magee College.
  • The cuts to student places and staff at Ulster University were announced on Wednesday
  • The cuts will affect all four campuses of the university
  • The chairman of a local looby group has blamed politicians for the cuts

One of the courses to fall under the axe at Magee is the Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice, it has emerged. Magee was one of only two places in the North that offered the professional qualification for the legal profession. The other is in Belfast.

Whilst Ulster University confirmed that the rest of the courses in the Law Faculty would remain unscathed, a spokeperson for the university told the ‘Journal’: “Ulster University does not intend to recruit students on to its Postgraduate Diploma for Legal Practice for September 2015 entry, due to plans by the University to look at the future direction of the course. Any students with a place already secured will have the option to now study for the same course at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies, an arrangement that has the full backing of the Law Society.

Willie Walsh President of London Chamber of Commerce and CEO of the International Airlines Group who was in Derry as a guest of  Londonderry Chamber of Commerce  President Padraig Canavan, left. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 26.4.12

Willie Walsh President of London Chamber of Commerce and CEO of the International Airlines Group who was in Derry as a guest of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President Padraig Canavan, left. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 26.4.12

Meanwhile, The head of a Derry campaign group dedicated to the expansion of Ulster University at the Magee campus has said that the blame for wide ranging cuts announced on Wednesday lies squarely at the feet of Stormont politicians.

U4D has been highly vocal in recent years in demanding that Derry’s university expands to accomodate a full range of academic disciplines and act as an economic catalyst for both the city and its North West hinterlands.

However, Chairman of U4D, businessman Padraig Canavan has said: “Ultimately, responsibility for the cut-backs at Ulster University must reside with those politicians who decided to cut funding for the Department of Employment and Learning and consequently for the universities.

“It is bizarre that politicians who say they want to grow our economy should take decisions that prevent our economy from growing and which are actually directly and indirectly causing job losses.”

It is bizarre that politicians who say they want to grow our economy should take decisions that prevent our economy from growing-Padraig Canavan

Padraig Canavan continued: “It should be self-evident that improving the skills base of Northern Ireland is the foundation for strengthening our economy. It is tragic that apparently some of our decision makers do not understand that.

“We recognise the difficulties faced by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive in managing a budget that is being seriously restricted by decisions based in Westminster. But, it is essential for our economy, our society and our peace-building process that the budget is managed effectively. It is clear in the case of further and higher education that this is not currently the case.”

Ulster University confirmed on Wednesday that 1,250 student places and more than 200 staff jobs will be cut across its four campuses as a result of the Northern Ireland Executive budget cuts to higher education.

Recently installed Vice-Chancellor of the University, Paddy Nixon said: “The implications of the NI Executive Budget Cuts will have far reaching consequences for our young people and our local economy.

“We cannot absorb further cuts so now more than ever, we must be decisive. We must strengthen our focus on the sustainable delivery of high quality teaching and world-leading research that produces graduates with industry ready relevant skills that benefit business and society.”

The announcement of the cuts surely places great doubt on the long awaited expansion of Magee. Regarded by many as a vital economic driver for Derry and its North West hinterland the anticipated loss of over 1,000 student places and 200 jobs for the four Ulster University campuses cannot augur well for Derry’s desire to become a ‘university city’.

When asked about the prospect for expansion at Magee, Vice-Chancellor Paddy Nixon said: “Derry is already a university city and Ulster University is already here.

“The expansion issue is a very challenging one. Until such times as fairly basic changes are made to university funding we are constricted and we have not got a level playing field with the rest of the UK.

“We are fourth class citizens in terms of education behind England, Scotland and Wales and we really need to address that fundamentally.”

In recent years the One Plan for the overall revamp of Derry included a desire to see 9,000 students in the city by 2020. Asked if this was still a realistic prospect, Mr Nixon said: “In the current funding environment 9,000 would be an amazing challenge. It certainly would be a number that would be a wonderful aspiration for Derry, but it requires the right funding base. This is our core challenge.

“There is £1,700 less funding per student here than in England, Scotland and Wales. This brings in to sharp relief that expansion across any of our campuses is going to be very difficult.”

Last October, Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) Minister Stephen Farry warned both universities in the North to plan ahead for a series of swingeing cuts.

As the debacle over Welfare Reform and its subsequent effect on the failure to agree on an overall budget at Stormont snowballed, Mr Farry said he had to warn staff of cuts as he was “part of an executive that was not properly managing its budget.”

The DEL Minister advised both the Ulster University and Queen’s University, Belfast, to prepare for a 15 per cent reduction in funding within the next academic year.

Mr Farry said that he rejected sole responsibility for the imposition of cuts saying he was “simply advising the universities to plan ahead” because of the overall financial hiatus in the executive.

“That’s the context in which we find ourselves, it’s not one of my making, but unfortunately we are looking ahead next year to potentially, cuts in the region of 15 per cent,” he said.

Since the news of the cuts at Ulster University have emerged the DEL Minister has contended the situation puts the prospect of expansion at Magee ‘into the distance’ and that it was not possible to ‘expand at the same time as you are contracting’.

Government funding accounts for 37 per cent of the sector’s income in the North.

However, grant funding makes up only 18 per cent of the budget of institutions in England and Wales. There, public funding has been largely replaced with higher tuition fees.

In July, Dr Farry said: “As a result of our institutions’ reliance on government funding, reducing Executive budgets will significantly impact on the financial sustainability of the sector.

“Northern Ireland’s higher education sector is already underfunded in comparison to the sector in England to the tune of £48m per annum (teaching and research funding).

The failure of the Stormont Assembly to accept the implementation of Welfare Reform as set out by Westminster led to a political fallout in Belfast on an overall budget in Northern Ireland. As a result this has led to cuts across departmental budgets including Higher Education.

Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP baulked against the implementation of cuts in the welfare system and a political impasse affecting the governance of the North has been in place since.

Reacting to news of the £8.6 million cut which will result in the loss of jobs and student places at Ulster University, including of course at the Magee campus in Derry, Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin said that political parties needed to stand together against Tory cuts to the Executive’s

budget.

“I am very disappointed that the University of Ulster has announced job losses at Magee and Coleraine and that entire departments are to be scrapped.

“The education of our young people is vital to the future prosperity of our society and it needs to be properly resourced.

“However, the continued Tory cuts to the Executive’s budget is impacting on our ability to deliver front-line public services and social protections.

“I am calling on the local political parties to get back to the task of tackling the real issues facing all our people, by standing together in opposition to Tory austerity and in defence of our front-line public services and the welfare state.”

SDLP representative on the Department of Education and Learning Committee at Stormont, Pat Ramsey however laid the blame for the debacle at the door of the two largest parties.

He said: “Make no mistake this announcement, is the result of DUP and Sinn Fein failure to come to an agreement on the budget.

“There will be job losses in the language, journalism and media, history and business departments. This follows the closure of the creché at Magee and other similar announcements over the last two years.

“The question that I have for Ulster University is, if, as I understand it these departments have a very strong record of achievement and project delivery, why target these for downscaling?

“I will be asking the DEL Minister, for whom I have much sympathy as this crisis was not of his making, to outline the business case for these decisions.

“I am also concerned that those offers of voluntary redundancy were only made to departments earmarked for staff losses.

“If jobs are to be lost surely it makes sense to offer that package to the entire faculty, in order that those working within the mentioned departments may have a chance to be reassigned within the University.

“Sometimes I wonder how seriously other partners are in the development of Magee as a ‘going’ concern never mind a ‘growing’ concern.”