A challenge to the University of Ulster

Mickey Cooper.
Mickey Cooper.

A number of articles have appeared in the ‘Derry Journal’ recently in relation to the Magee campus. One by former vice-chancellor Gerry McKenna highlighted the commonly-held view that progress on the physical, student number and subject-based expansion of the Magee campus had stalled in the last few years.

Readers will be well aware that Sinn Féin has voiced concerns on all of these issues over the last year and we are still of the view that the response from the University of Ulster (UU) to these concerns has been, to put it mildly, relaxed.

A separate article also appeared by Padraig Canavan promoting the idea that the Ebrington site be ‘gifted’ by the Office of First and Deputy first Minister to the University of Ulster. Whilst this is a laudable idea, there are a range of issues that Padraig did not mention in his piece, namely:

- the ongoing work on the development of a maritime museum and Digital Hub at Ebrington;

- the need for a business case for the site to be made available by the UU- regardless of whether it was sold or gifted to the UU;

- how the newly developed parade ground could still be made available for public use if under the ownership of the UU;

- why the Executive would allow a site with massive potential as a mixed use cultural and business site to be made available to a single institution. After all, it had preferred bidder status for land adjacent to its current campus and student accommodation at Magee - land which could otherwise end up in the hands of a private developer if the UU did not avail of the expansion opportunities offered by the site.

All of these issues would need to be addressed by Padraig to warrant consideration of such a proposal. I’m sure opportunities will be presented in the coming months where Padraig will be able to present his case.

Just as unimpressive were replies to a recent query from Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin regarding the UU’s plans for Magee Campus.

In his response, Professor Richard Barnett outlined a number of initiatives which he claimed were evidence of the UU’s commitment to the development of the Magee campus. Quite simply, his response smacked of a piecemeal approach and did not inspire any great confidence that the UU is seriously committed to Magee especially in comparison to its new Belfast campus.

Of course, the UU will point to the recent allocation of STEM MasN places to the Magee campus. Whilst this is welcome, Magee needs to be much more than a glorified technical college which many fear will be the outcome of the current UU strategy towards Magee. If this is the case, it would be preferable that the UU laid its cards on the table which would allow all those interested in the proper development of a university in Derry to explore viable alternatives.