Sign off of Medical School needed by May or first enrolments will be kicked back to 2021, councillor warns

Sinead McLaughlin.
Sinead McLaughlin.

Derry City & Strabane District Council is to write to the Department for the Economy urging it to approve a medical school at Magee in order to prevent its first year of enrolments being kicked back another year to 2021.

DC&SDC’s Governance & Strategic Planning Committee proposed to write to Noel Lavery, DfE Permanent Secretary, asking him to expedite business case approval by May.

This would allow the Graduate Entry Medical School to be listed under the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) system in time for the start of the 2020/21 academic year.

The Council’s Chief Executive, John Kelpie, was asked for a progress update on the Medical School by UUP Alderman Derek Hussey.

Mr. Kelpie said he understood Ulster University were at an advanced stage of iterative exchanges with DfE over the business case, which has involved the university answering any queries the civil service may have.

SDLP Councillor Sinead McLaughlin expressed concern that if the Medical School - a key plank in Derry’s Strategic Growth Plan and its City Deal bid - was not signed off on by May another year could be lost and the first intake of medical students may not take place until September 2021.

Mr. Kelpie said he agreed and told the committee that pressure was being applied by the DC&SDC officer team, by local political parties and by the Council as a corporate body, on an almost daily basis.

Speaking after proposing that Council write to the DfE to express the importance of the project, Colr. McLaughlin said: “I am concerned for the progress of Ulster University’s Postgraduate Medical School as time is once again running out to get approval to proceed with the development of a medical school.

“The Medical School has experienced delay after delay and if the business case does not move forward and receive approval by the end of May, the project will be delayed for a further twelve months.

"This means that students would not be able to commence their studies on the Magee Campus before October 2021. It was expected that the first intake of students would take place this September 2019.

“As a City Region we need to support and push for the delivery of this vital project.”

Colr. McLaughlin said the expansion of Ulster University’s Magee campus was fundamental to the delivery of an effective City Deal for Derry.

She said it was not clear whether approval can be given in the absence of a sitting Executive, however, she said the ongoing political impasse was another example of Derry being failed by a dysfunctional political system.

“I have proposed that we write to the Permanent Secretary for the DfE to ask the Department to proceed with urgency to get approval for the medical school within the next four months.

“Time is of the essence and it is imperative that this project does not get knocked back into the long grass again.

“The SDLP have always been eager to see this project operational and we will continue to actively pursue this matter in the coming months,” she said.