University of Ulster’s £5.1m investment in . . . Coleraine

It was while perusing Birmingham’s local newspaper, ‘The Post’, that I chanced on last week’s news of the University of Ulster’s investment in that city - in contrast to its lack of investment in Derry.

This week it’s the ‘Coleraine Chronicle’ I have been leafing through. What an exciting life.

I gather from the Chronicle that the University of Ulster is investing £5.1m in a new teaching block at the Coleraine campus. An enthusiastic Professor Deirdre Heenan tells the paper that the project demonstrates the university’s “determination to play a key role in the wider Coleraine community”.

The Chronicle reports that, “The new three-storey building will be linked to the existing central building via a glazed link at the first and second floor levels, adjacent to existing lecture theatres.

“The accommodation will also provide a 250 seat raked lecture theatre and a series of different sized teaching rooms. Student ‘hubs’ will be provided on each floor.”

Sounds brilliant.

Professor Heenan’s spake goes on: “Our focus at Coleraine is on making improvements to the physical estate in order to enhance the student experience on this campus.

“With 5,500 students it has always been a busy and lively environment for everyone studying and working here and we want to ensure that the facilities we provide continue to meet the needs of our students now and in future years. One way in which we are addressing this is by investing in the physical infrastructure.”

A planning application for the new facility was lodged just a month ago. Construction is set to begin in five months’ time. It is anticipated that the teaching block will be up and running by March 2015. No foot-dragging or shilly-shallying here, then.

Professor Heenan continues: “I am determined to seize every opportunity that I can to ensure the Coleraine campus continues to focus on the students and staff who are based here, as well as building on the key role we have to play in the wider community of Coleraine itself and the surrounding district.”

It would be mean-spirited, missing the target and plain wrong to begrudge Coleraine or to suggest that the teaching block should be delayed or abandoned, even if that were possible, which it isn’t. Good luck to them.

But the development does point up again the continuing neglect of Magee, the lack of leadership at the Derry campus - and the absence, too, of any sign that any of this will change any time soon. There should be a hullabaloo across Derry about this.

The calculation is, I suspect, that there are no votes in the issue. Also to be taken into account is the likely embarrassment - at least they should be embarrassed - of the party which boasted on huge placards during the last election: “Expansion of Magee – Guaranteed!”

If that was the truth, they have been badly let down. But they don’t seem to be complaining. Odd. Or not.

Here’s another thing: why is it that the offices of a number of key administrative functions covering all four campuses are based at Coleraine, but none in Derry? Human Resources, Finance, Legal, Research…

Magee has been and continues to be marginalised.

I asked last week whether the cost of the recent jaunt to China by a squad of UU managers would have been enough to cover the running costs of the crèche at Magee now being closed because the university can’t afford it!

What are we to make of the spectacle of one member of the China contingent running along a corridor, wagging a finger and calling after a retreating student who had raised the question of the crèche: “The Magee crèche is closing, get used to it!”

Some of the antics of these people would be comical if they weren’t tragic.