New paper calls for independent body to look at third level provision in north west

A new Royal Irish Academy discussion paper has called for the formation of an independent body to plan for cross-border university provision in the north west.

Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 3:53 pm

The paper has been newly-published by the RIA Higher Education Futures Taskforce which was established in September 2020 in order to develop a 'forward-looking vision of higher education that demonstrates the priorities needed in the face of unprecedented global trends and rapidly changing societies'.

It states: "Despite notable improvements in the HE landscape in recent years in Ireland and Northern Ireland, there is a clear need to reduce the regional disparities that still exist in tertiary education.

"Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) and Further Education Institutions (FEIs) must be encouraged and incentivised to collaborate more widely and to share resources in order to reduce the economic and social disadvantages that exist to varying degrees in different regions."

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To remedy this the paper recommends 'a co-ordinated and independent planning body supported by funds from PEACE PLUS, the Shared Island Unit and a major joint UK-EU-Ireland-NI initiative involving sustained commitment should be established to plan future tertiary education and research provision, including cross-border provision, in the north-west of the island of Ireland'.

The new discussion document - among a series on the future of third level provision in Ireland - is entitled 'The role of regions and place in higher education across the island of Ireland' and includes a lengthy section on the north west region.

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"In the range of submissions and discussions relating to ‘Region and Place’, the north west has been defined variously as encompassing Donegal and L/Derry, Coleraine and L/Derry and a north-west region spanning Galway, Sligo, Letterkenny, L/ Derry and Coleraine including their respective hinterlands.

"The Taskforce believes that there is considerable merit in accepting the wider and more inclusive definition of the region in order to achieve the scale necessary for focused regional planning devoid of unnecessary jurisdictional, institutional or campus competition and insularity.

"Irrespective of how it is defined, there is general acceptance that the north-west region of the island of Ireland has been disadvantaged in both jurisdictions due to inevitable limitations imposed by a land border and its peripherality from the major centres of political and economic power and focus, namely Belfast and Dublin," the authors state.

The paper refers to the controversy around the Lockwood report that in 1965 recommended that a second university for the north be located in Coleraine rather than Derry.

The authors suggest this overshadows the disproportionate overconcentration of investment in third level in Belfast since then.

"In Northern Ireland the long-standing dispute over the siting of the New University of Ulster in Coleraine rather than L/Derry has tended to obscure the fact that HE investment has been concentrated in Belfast with over 80% of all HE places and associated infrastructural capital spending based there," the report states.