Eamonn McCann - Magee - it’s not growing

The Magee campus of the University of Ulster
The Magee campus of the University of Ulster

Last week’s news that Planning Minister Alex Attwood has given the go-ahead for the University of Ulster’s £250 million development in Belfast brought back memories of talk of a £250 million UU investment in Derry.

In February 2009, a UU press statement announced that, “The University is planning to expand student numbers from 3,800 to 5,500-6,000. The University has a sound financial strategy in support of this development. Over the next 25 years it is estimated that £250 million will be invested in new buildings and new jobs.”

Vice Chancellor Richard Barnett said that, “Soon, as a result of our plans released today, (Magee) will have 5,500-6,000 (students)”.

Since then, the number of students at Magee has been static or in slow decline. And there is no sign of foundations being laid for the promised quarter-billion construction project.

Magee is used to this sort of thing by now.

“Things are not moving at a snail’s pace,” growls one long-time campaigner for the expansion at Magee. “Snails move slowly, but at least they move . .”

In April 2000, retiring provost Fabian Monds said that Magee had “a medium term target of 5,000 students and we are now well on the way to achieving this.”

In June 2001, Provost Jim Allen said that, “Student numbers are confidently predicted to be well in excess of 5,000 within the University’s planning horizon of 8-10 years.”

In March 2003, Vice Chancellor Gerry McKenna said that, “With a current population of 3,500 and a target of 5,000 by the end of the decade, at our current rate of growth we will have achieved 50 percent of this target by 2005.”

In February 2005, a UU press statement promised “expansion of student numbers to 10,000.”

As mentioned, February 2009 saw the university announcing the £250 million expansion scheme to accommodate the rising numbers at Magee.

In February 2010, Vice Chancellor Barnett announced that, “The University is driving ahead its expansion plan which will double Magee’s land footprint and bring its student numbers from around 4,000 to about 6,000 over five years.” Professor Deirdre Heenan added that, “Magee is the fastest growing of the University’s four campuses.”

Not a single one of these statements has stood the test of time. Most of the targets have been missed by a mile. As pointed out here a few weeks back, there were 4,105 students enrolled at Magee in 2004/’05. Seven years later, in 2011/’12, the figure was 4,065. The trend has been marginally downwards, not upwards.

But still some of those who front for Magee on public occasions seem to have grins affixed to their faces, as if by rawl-plugs.

The deepening cynicism of local staff is by no means to be wondered at.