The news that the accountancy firm RSM McClure Watters is to undertake the business case for the expansion of the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster is one that has to be welcomed. Although, the history of this city tells us that ultimately its findings may not be welcomed dependent on whether or not the plan is approved.
The business case will assess the need to increase the student population of the Derry campus to 9,400 and work on that project will begin at the end of this month. A draft report is expected at the end of June, with the final report expected in September. Last week unemployment figures pinpointed the fact that this city remains the north’s unemployment blackspot with 6,802 people here claiming unemployment benefits of some sort out of a total of 59,000 out of work in the north. But, 41 years after the failed campaign to locate Northern Ireland’s second university upon the foundation stones of Magee College surely the time is as ripe as it was then for the entire population of this city to throw its weight behind the need for this expansion. Students bring vibrancy to a city in many ways. They provide intellect, initiative and energy. In kind these are qualities that attract business interest. The knock-on effect of that is the injection of vitally needed money to local shops which in itself many sustain businesses that otherwise will languish under the burden of top heavy rates. Leaving aside the hegemonic nature of unionist rule at Stormont in the 1960s which in the end took the ‘new university’ to Coleraine, remember, it was the old Londonderry Corporation which in 1963 published a ‘manifesto’ setting out this city’s case. In a politically Gerrymandered city that ‘manifesto’ won unanimous backing from the 12 unionist and eight nationalist councillors. It is time for that spirit to be reinvoked once more for the good of everyone in this city.