In the Friday Journal the Provost of Magee presented us with a very upbeat take on the University of Ulster’s intentions to expand the Magee campus. I think we’ve heard it all before. Previous vice chancellor Gerry McKenna said in a press release in March 2003; “Magee is the fastest growing campus of the University, with a current population of 3,500 and a target of 5,000 by the end of the decade. At our current rate of growth we will have achieved 50% of this target by 2005...” (source UU website).
This, of course, did not happen then and it has not happened yet. Growth has been tortuously slow and I believe it will remain so - though I’ll be very happy to be proved wrong.
It’s telling that the timing of the article by Deirdre Heenan coincides with the announcement that UU is spending 250 million pounds on the purchase of land in Belfast. This single transaction makes the 55 million spent on Magee in the 28 years since 1984 look fairly insignificant. To me it reveals the real intentions of the Belfast centric senior management of UU.
The article also attempts to push blame onto DEL and the Executive for stymieing the University’s efforts to expand Magee. The implication is that the expansion of Magee is conditional on extra student places being funded by DEL and in the current economic climate that seems unlikely.
But there is another way to expand Magee. UU is free to move the location of any of its courses. It can allocate and redistribute student places to any campus as long as it stays within the overall DEL cap on numbers. If the Jordanstown campus is no longer fit for purpose, then there is now a golden opportunity for the senior management of UU to redistribute courses and students on an equitable basis between all three campuses. The result of this would be about 7,000 students in each and a great boost for Derry and Coleraine.
There are precedents, because courses and subjects in UU are moved from one location to another on a regular basis. For example I understand that the language department at Magee is being quietly transferred to Coleraine over the next year or two.
So will we see Magee expanding into a 7,000 student campus any time soon? Don’t hold your breath. There’s been a lot of hype over the last nine years about expanding Magee but in that time only 500 new student places have resulted. In my opinion the university is not serious about Magee but simply paying lip service to the lobbyists in Derry whilst putting a huge amount of money and resources into what they’re really interested in - their new Belfast campus.
Buncrana Road, Derry.