OPINION: New Medical School will happen - and will be just the start for Magee
Sinn Fein Colr. Mickey Cooper writes about the past challenges, the commitment and, indeed, the will which now exists to develop the Ulster University's Derry campus.
Much noise has been made by other political parties recently in relation to the need for a Medical School to be established at the Magee campus of the Ulster University.
Whilst this belated interest is certainly to be welcomed, it is important to note that work on the creation of the Medical School is already well advanced.
As recently as last July Sinn Fein Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, met with representatives of the Ulster University and was briefed about the plans for the establishment of the school which would create hundreds of new medical staff.
These new staff members would provide a direct solution to the staffing issues which have existed for many years within the health service - problems which have led to the continued use of locums which puts extra financial pressures on our local health service.
VALUED MINISTERIAL SUPPORT
Michelle O’Neill was happy to express her support for the proposals and this has since led to the Ulster University working towards accreditation for the courses it hopes to offer at the new facility.
Work is also underway on the production of a business case for the establishment of the new school which I am confident will bear fruit and see the construction of a new facility on the Magee campus.
Such a development would signal the beginning, in earnest, of Magee’s expansion which Sinn Fein has been constantly pushing heavily for over the last five years.
ALLEGED ASSET STRIPPING by previous administration
This campaign was crucial given the fact that the previous Ulster University administration appeared to be asset stripping the Magee campus in favour of new developments in Belfast.
At the same time, the Minister for Further & Higher Education consistently insisted that expansion would only be considered if a business plan was produced and presented to the powers that be.
The apparent reluctance of the Ulster University to proactively pursue that business case, effectively forced the hand of Derry City Council to collaborate with ILEX to fund the publication of the document.
And that document, which is extremely comprehensive, has now made its way onto the desk of the Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton and outlines the various requirements - both financial and educational - which need to be put into place to allow the Magee campus to incrementally develop student numbers over the coming decade.
The document also takes into consideration the proposed introduction of a wide range of new courses in engineering, I.T. and many more to allow the campus to retain more local students and create more graduates in economically relevant subjects.
Our Executive Ministers will continue to engage with the Simon Hamilton to allow a bid to be made to the Sinn Fein Minister for Finance, Mairtin O’Mulleoir, who has already expressed his willingness to fund the Magee expansion in the coming years.
In addition to securing support from the Executive, the expansion also requires direct imput and resourcing from the Ulster University itself.
From our perspective, the new administration which has taken over the Ulster University - including the Magee campus - is hearing, and, indeed, listening to, the concerns of ourselves and the wider population of the city who want a campus of appropriate scale to be developed at Magee over the coming years.
It must be said, that this is in stark contrast to the approach of the previous administration which, in my view, would have continued with their laissez-faire approach to the local campus if political pressure had not been applied by Sinn Fein and other stakeholders to ensure that the rot was stopped.
I believe we now have renewed confidence that real and proper progress will be made over the coming months which will be heralded by imminent progress on the development of the new Medical School.