Ulster Uni’s new Belfast Campus Shows it isn’t Serious About Magee Expansion. So it’s time for Derry to Look Elsewhere

Last week’s A’Level results not only signalled the start of the annual scramble to secure a place at University. They also pointed to a worrying development for the long-promised expansion of Magee campus in Derry.

Student Numbers Falling

Figures from UCAS (the University and Colleges Admissions Service) show a 4% fall this year in applications to go to University – the first such decline in five years.  All parts of the UK are reflecting this drop, and the figures also show a continuing decline in applications from mature students – particularly in NI. The increasing cost of a university education is the most likely cause behind this development. Typical student fees are now £9,250 per year, whilst the interest rate on the loans to fund them has soared to 6.1%. With the average graduate leaving university with £58,000 of debt, it is little surprise some are thinking twice about higher education at all. And it’s not just domestic students. There has also been a 5% post-Brexit fall in the number of applications from EU students to study in the UK, whilst new visa restrictions have caused applicants from non-EU countries like India and Nigeria to plummet.

Greater Competition

Those who do want to go to university in the UK also have an unprecedented choice of 128 universities, with new institutions continuing to open (the latest last year in Suffolk). There are therefore more universities chasing a shrinking pool of students, all of which makes the UK’s Higher Education sector extremely competitive.

It was doubtless with this in mind that Ulster University announced a plan recently to offer discounts to English, Welsh and Scottish students who choose to study with them. If you’re an NI or EU student at a Northern Irish university you are charged a reduced fee of £4,030 per year, courtesy of Stormont. Your counterparts from Britain, however, have to pay the full fee price of £9,250 for Queens and £9,000 for Ulster. In return for its subsidy, Stormont limits the number of NI and EU students Universities here can take. Hence Ulster is seeking to entice more students from Britain by offering them a £2,000 fee discount, or £1,000 off fees plus money towards accommodation and travel. With only 6% of current students in NI originating from across the Irish Sea, and universities in Britain not restricted by any cap on their recruitment numbers, it remains to be seen how successful Ulster’s incentives will be.

New £300m Campus for Belfast

Against this backdrop of heightened competition Ulster University is building a new £300m, 15,000 student campus in Belfast. With some of the 1970s buildings at their Jordanstown base nearing the end of their life, the University considered it more economical to move the majority of staff and students from there to a brand new campus next to its existing Art College in central Belfast. Ulster University’s presence in Belfast will therefore soar from 1,200 students to 15,000 in the coming years.

The creation of this new Belfast campus reveals two uncomfortable truths about the long-promised expansion of Magee. Firstly, it reconfirms Derry’s standing as the fourth priority within Ulster University’s four campuses. There is no reason why their Jordanstown facility couldn’t have been relocated to Derry – instantly giving the city the size of university it has long demanded. And if the decision to leave Jordanstown was indeed made on economic grounds, Derry’s significantly lower land costs would have reduced their relocation bill to a fraction of the £300m they’re spending on Belfast. The Jordanstown move was a golden opportunity for Ulster University to prove that they are indeed serious about creating a proper campus in Derry. Yet there is no evidence that the city was even considered as a potential location. Ulster’s failure to move even a handful of courses and staff from Jordanstown to Derry is a clear admission that they do not take the expansion of Magee seriously. Instead since 2010 they have reduced both the courses they offer in Derry and their staff numbers by over a hundred.

Secondly – relocating Jordanstown to Belfast makes any major expansion of Magee unlikely for the foreseeable future. Ulster is a middle-ranking university (68th in the 2017 table), so has to work hard to attract students. And since they announced their Jordanstown relocation plan in 2009, twenty more universities have opened in the UK. With a brand new £300m campus to fill and competition getting stiffer all the time, Ulster’s main strategic, academic and financial focus will be on making their new Belfast facility a success. It is inconceivable that they would allow Magee to be a distraction from that task. And with student demand falling, it would be a big risk for them to add room for another 5,000 in Derry anyway.

Medical School Sop for Derry

All of which leaves Magee still languishing at the bottom of Ulster University’s priority list. The good news is that it’s been promised a new Medical School facility. But it’s a proposal that falls short on three counts. Firstly – in the absence of any additional expansion proposals for Magee, it feels like a sop to distract Derry whilst the champagne corks are popped on Ulster’s new Belfast campus next year. Secondly – although a Medical School is welcome, it won’t create the kind of incremental economic growth & employment that locating courses like engineering or software development there would help deliver. Derry has the UK’s highest unemployment, and there is a limit to how many graduate doctors it can employ locally. Finally – with only one year left before this Medical School is due to open, Ulster have yet to confirm either its funding or its location.

The decision to move Ulster University’s Jordanstown campus to Belfast marks the second time in fifty years that Derry has been over-looked for a significant University presence. Though unlike the 1960s, this one has happened without the city even realising it. Questions must be asked of the city’s politicians as to why none of them challenged this decision – particularly when Ulster secured £17m from Stormont to help finance their Belfast move. And where were the internal voices to fight Derry’s corner – such as the Magee Provost, or the former Mayor of Derry who sits on the university’s top decision-making body ? Derry has been asleep at the wheel whilst Belfast got handed a £300m campus it didn’t even campaign for.

Time to Look Elsewhere

Ulster University is and always has been an institution focused upon the eastern half of Northern Ireland. It had never wanted Magee campus in the first place, but was lumbered with it when the backlash to selecting Coleraine as NI’s second University location in 1965 rendered closure of Magee politically toxic (the Lockwood Report had recommended it be shut). Ever since then Ulster has treated Magee as a distraction at best, and a nuisance at worst. It is their unwanted inheritance.

Derry is the UK’s unemployment blackspot. Significant University expansion has long been identified as the quickest and easiest route to improving its economy and skills. The council’s various strategic development plans over the decades – including the Local Development Plan currently being drafted –  have made the city’s economic development part-dependent upon University expansion. Ulster’s complete failure to meet its long-standing promises on doubling Magee carries real economic and social consequences for NI’s second city. It is a damaging charade that must be brought to an end.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Ulster University in Coleraine (a decision that still rankles in Derry). Ulster must be challenged to mark that occasion by finally publishing a comprehensive plan for the expansion of Magee – complete with student numbers, timings and funding details. If they are unwilling to do so, that would amount to a public acknowledgement that they are simply not committed to Derry. In which case, the local Council should actively seek and incentivise an alternative university provider to establish a base in the city. It’s time for Derry to look elsewhere.

That is not as fanciful a proposal as it may at first sound. Firstly – many British and international universities have off-shoots in other locations. Ulster University itself has branch campuses in London and Birmingham, whilst Boston College and American College operate in Dublin and Notre Dame is opening a campus in Galway. Ironically, Magee college was a campus of Trinity College Dubin for 60yrs until it was given to the New University of Ulster in 1969.

Secondly – suitable land is available in Derry. The Council has ownership of the 15 acre former Fort George barracks, and has been tasked with redeveloping it for the city’s benefit. No concrete proposals currently exist for that space. Ulster Uni could also be asked to hand over the land that it currently uses in the city to a new provider, in the same way that Trinity donated its land there in 1969.

This move would hopefully shake Ulster Uni out of the complacent belief that they can treat Magee as the problem child they never wanted in the first place. And it would use the free market that now exists in UK higher education to Derry’s advantage. Derry shouldn’t have to meekly accept a University that has no genuine commitment to it, who’s priorities lie elsewhere, and who seeks to buy its silence with the occasional sop. It’s time for Ulster University to publicly explain how and when they will grow the Magee campus. And if they don’t, it’s time for Derry to aggressively pursue the development of its third level sector by looking elsewhere.

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  • Andrew Gallagher

    There is no reason why their Jordanstown facility couldn’t have been relocated to Derry

    This is disingenuous. Imagine the backlash from the staff when they’re told all their jobs are being relocated:

    Sorry, professor. You have to take your children out of school and move them a hundred miles away. Too bad about your wife/husband’s job. You could try commuting an hour and a half each way per day. Or you could live in a hotel three nights a week. Wouldn’t that be nice?

  • John

    Perhaps if Universities offered worth-while courses at sensible prices numbers would not be falling. Once upon a time our Universities producing world class engineering graduates, now I have no idea what many so-called degrees mean or what relevance they have.

  • Peter Doran

    Great piece Steve. This has needed saying for a long time now. Derry-Letterkenny could be the natural anchor for a genuine all-island university with global branding if the local leadership could get over the idea that ‘others’ have to make the decisions and come up with the ideas.

  • SilentMajority

    I fully agree with your post.

    The University of Ulster campus in Belfast, in my opinion, raises serious questions about the governance of Northern Ireland over the last decade or so under the Peace arrangements and suggests that in spite of all apparent progress, behind the scenes, things did not really change at all. I strongly support Derry breaking away from the UU as it has been totally bad news and treacherous to the future of Magee. Even the medical school announcement was made in a way that is a fudge. They have not said Derry specifically for this and are looking in the ‘North-West’ which is opening the door for a fudge between Coleraine and Derry in which Derry will be lost in the mix. Derry needs its own independent university (possible names include Tír Chonaill University, Derry / University of The Irish Atlantic Shore at Derry). Siting of the university in Derry would have transformed Derry and its broader region. Instead its isolation since partition continues.

    I personally would like to know the policy basis and decision-making process that resulted in the University of Ulster new campus in Belfast, currently under construction.

    The Department of the Economy web site suggests that the universities in NI are autonomous but it is also clear that they are largely and almost totally funded by the Department’s direct funding/grants and also funding via student fees. Although the new university building scheme in Belfast is largely being funded by a substantial EU loan this will indirectly be fully paid via the funding mechanisms of the NI Executive, as referred to in the previous sentence. It is as such a ‘new university’ almost totally funded by the Department/NI Executive using a loan mechanism.

    I am having difficulty in my own mind reconciling how this development sits with NI Government policy and believe answers are required as to how this development decision was made and agreed at Departmental and political level. This should be open for the public to see instead of being hidden in backroom secret deals and negotiations. Many political parties/politicians who were riding two horses, protesting about the future of Magee and at the same time heavily involved in the promotion and securing of EEC money for the UU Belfast campus, have also questions to answer about their sincerity. The way Derry and the west has been treated is stark in contrast to regional cities and towns in the Republic or rest of the UK. Ni is a cold house for anywhere outside the East and, in particular, outside the Belfast Region.

    The NI Executive/Assembly Government policy as outlined in the Programme for Government is underpinned by a policy of addressing regional imbalance and inequity which filter through to all Departmental policies. These aims are for example outlined in the Invest NI Strategy and the Regional Development Strategy 2035 which are underpinned by the principle of achieving balanced sub regional growth. The importance of this is stressed as the ‘critical issue’ of ‘tackling regional imbalance’, specifically via the aims of achieving balanced sub-regional growth and providing a ‘…strong, sustainable growth for the benefits of all parts of NI’.

    The ongoing significant Invest NI job announcements and support for Belfast and concentration of public sector jobs such as the Inland Revenue are all indicative of an approach that appears contrary to the stated policies. Belfast in its proposed Local Development Plan is also making plans for significant economic and population growth, contrary to the Regional Development Strategy, and which can only be at the further loss to the remainder of NI as people are drawn to the heavily subsidized magnet in Belfast, as visible in the new found affluence around the city.

    Two universities will now bring a university student population in Belfast to approaching 50,000 and several thousand jobs and associated symbiotic development/redevelopment in a city with a population of around 270,000 (Belfast region 500,000) As such an issue that was behind the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s when Derry and the west was not selected for a second university, and one of the ‘triggers’ of the troubles, has been the subject of what appears to be a missed opportunity to correct a major wrong by re siting the whole or large parts of the UU in Derry and not central Belfast where it is adding to problems with the York Street/West-link junction. At the same time, as grandiose plans were being announced for the Belfast campus, the Education Ministers of the day (Dr. Stephen Farry and Basil McCrea) made announcements of ‘scaling back’ at the Magee Campus, Derry, and that future development of this campus previously indicated were ‘in doubt’. These decisions were not, as such, made by the ‘autonomous’ university and indicative that neither was the new campus in Belfast.

    This in my opinion is a symptom/ result of poor regional planning, concentration policies, imbalance and lack of political oversight/control and to be frank, discriminatory and inequitable. It is also evidence of the grossly absurd imbalance between Belfast and the rest of NI in the allocation of the UK taxpayer subsidy to NI which is estimated to account for 75% of Northern Irelands GDP. It is shameful that these decisions can be made in a modern democratic world and simply wrong that citizens, and, in particular the future of young people in the west of Northern Ireland (with an exacerbated ‘no-hope’/heightened depression, suicide levels and forced emigration) should be the subject of such blatant discrimination in regional planning and investment especially where this is largely funded by a UK government subsidy but where the vast majority of it does not go beyond Belfast

  • Steve

    They had no difficulty telling the staff and students located in Derry that they were moving to Coleraine or Jordanstown when they relocated courses from Magee though. So it’s good enough for themuns in Derry, but not good enough for Belfast-based folk ?

    What about the staff who were happy working at Jordanstown and living in Co Antrim & elsewhere who had made a conscious decision not to live in Belfast ? They now have to move to where they didn’t want to, or face a life of commuting that they hadn’t planned. Does your sympathy not extend to them?

    Nothing would ever move if your argument here held sway. Civil service jobs would never relocate, companies would never relocate or expand with staff moving etc etc. It is a view that just doesn’t reflect the real world I’m afraid.

    And you’re focusing in on a relative side issue and completely ignoring the fundamental premise of the piece, which is UUs constant false promises to Derry. That’s the real issue, not where Professor Handcramp’s little Johnny goes to school.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I agree with most of your post but I have to point out that Farry had little choice, remember that he wanted to cut St Mary’s and stranmillis (I think he may even have wanted to merge them) but he was over ruled, by the same people who criticised him for not expanding Magee.

  • The worm!

    I think his basic contention was along the lines of “two are unnecessary”, and even that couldn’t be accepted!

  • The worm!

    Correct!

    Have no lessons been learned from the Department of Agriculture/Ballykelly fiasco?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Thank you, that’s what I thought.

    Surely merging the two, flogging one of them to developers and using the money for Magee is just common sense?

  • The worm!

    Absolutely!

    Which is why it would appear to have no place whatsoever in the running of Northern Ireland!

  • The worm!

    Third level education is a scandal, plain and simple.

    We should realise that the young ones who are getting screwed over by it while we collectively do nothing, might be responsible for our provision of care in twenty or thirty years.

    Better hope they don’t hold a grudge when it dawns on them how much our failure to speak now is costing them!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I think Derry should aim to be some sort of ‘Galway of the north’.

    The council should consider how to make the place more pub, hotel, cafe and restaurant friendly and as suggested in the post put pressure on the relevant dept to attract either a university expansion or another university altogether.

    That would also increase its tourist appeal so; vibrant summers and lots of students in the winter to take up the leisure slack somewhat.

    It has a port, a university, a cathedral, a walled city, railway line, fine architecture, friendly people, industrial estates and proximity to many beautiful areas, if we can’t work with that then can we just do away with the tourist board and numerous other civic posts and use the saved money to blow on some other white elephant?

  • Brian O’Neill

    You read my mind. I have a post planned on that very topic.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Does Brexit not put a spanner in the works of any cross border setup?

  • Granni Trixie

    My understanding was that the Minister said something around ‘it is up to Magee to make decisions about how they use ther grant but there is not extra money to expand Magee at this point’. Or have I misremembered this?

  • Andrew Gallagher

    You said there was “no reason why” jobs could not be relocated. I gave you one good reason why. The fact that similar counter-arguments have been ignored on other occasions does not mean it is right to ignore them on this occasion. Better to address them and show why they are insufficient rather than pretend they don’t exist.

    Moving a job from a suburb of Belfast to the city centre is not comparable to moving a job to a different city 100 miles away. Disingenuous again.

    This is not a side issue. You suggested that moving the Jordanstown campus to Derry was a no-brainer. It’s far from it. I’m not contesting your diagnosis, just your prescription.

  • Reader

    Brian O’Neill Does Brexit not put a spanner in the works of any cross border setup?
    Not unless you are planning an agricultural college. You just need to make sure that students from outside the Common Travel Area have the correct visas, and staff from outside the CTA also have the right work permits.

  • john millar

    Those with long memories might remember when “Magee” was a college of Trinity in Dublin. Time to go back?

  • Brian Walker

    As a youthful supporter of the original University for Derry campaign, I believe with only a little regret that efforts to expand Magee along existing lines are whistling in the wind. The chance to found a new full institution in my own home town there was missed 60 years ago. As part of a federal institution – a fact which at least kept it in existence – it was always likely to lose out to the greater critical mass achievable in and around Belfast. If 5000 students in Magee is deemed to be too small for thriving – and I don’t know if it is or not – then redesignation as a separate and quite different institution may be the answer. In Wales Aberyswyth University with 7000 undergraduates and as separate institution since the National University of Wales was broken up a decade ago, is in size not so very different from Magee with 5000 students.
    But Northern Ireland is less than half the catchment area of Wales and there’s no point in relying on the old neglected west arguments to bump Magee up. The move from Jordanstown to Belfast city centre is a fact and I suspect it makes sense in terms of resources and the factor of student appeal which is now much bigger than it used to be.
    I suspect a new strategy for Magee should rest on further developing core vocational skills to take to third level the new schools BTEC qualification. A traditional university education is no longer a passport to a decent job and many graduates leave without any obvious skills. The development of Magee as a centre of excellence for practical high level vocational skills plus a local cross border dimension could bring new life to Magee and add to the prosperity not only of the north west, but Northern Ireland as a whole.
    But government and Ulster University should come clean. If the new Belfast campus satisfies present demand, they logically must go on the argue that NI higher technical education has peaked. As this is hardly plausible a new strategy with new investment in higher skills needs to be devlsed and there’s no reason why Magee should not provide a bigger share of it. But the initiative can only rest with government. It is far beyond the reach of any council.

  • Oggins

    Really, never knew that. Any links on that?

  • notimetoshine

    This post is all about why Derry should have a university. Well what can Derry do for the university? It makes perfect sense for UU to focus on Belfast, it is the economic, social and cultural hub in NI after all. Not to mention UU is in a fiercely competitive university market, and the location of the Uni is vital to attracting both students and staff. People who are likely to gravitate towards the urban heart of the region.

    Universities are there to educate and innovate. They are not there to provide a crutch for an ailing economy. Derry would do better to explain why it is in a better position socially, culturally and economically to support a healthy University.

  • john millar

    Try Wikipedia (my cousin went there and then “finished” in Dublin

  • SilentMajority

    There is no argument that Belfast is the main area of population and economic concentration in NI.

    There is also a subsidy which sustains this, including many of the big aerospace based industrial jobs (a crutch of forms), many subsidised office based jobs (that results in construction jobs etc.,) and a concentration of public sector jobs. The more that things are concentrated in it the more of a self perpetuating force it becomes.

    If Derry had have received any thing like the same proportion of attention relative to its size it would be a bigger place that it is now. It is surprising that it has been able to sustain itself to it present form without the same level of subsidy (crutch) that Belfast received. Look at Galway and Cork and see how it should have developed if there was no discrimination in development and industrial policy.

    Derry has an historic walled city, two cathedrals, a beautiful river and setting, in close proximity to the stunning beauty and ruggedness of Donegal, was the UK City of Culture 2013, has a fine literature, musical and theatrical tradition and reputation including strong identity with Brian Friel and Seamus Heaney

    It has I would feel better ‘bones’ to be a university city than Belfast due to its culture, location and historic streetscape and walled city form.

    The argument is not that the first or even primary university should be in Belfast, but that there should not be two main universities in it when the supposed second regional city is also part of the same state and naturally should be the focus for the second, but instead is not really considered as an option.

  • SilentMajority
  • SilentMajority
  • Newton Emerson

    You may take it up entirely with UU regarding the Belfast move (and the equally costly Magee expansion promised at the same time.) Reg Empey was the DEL minister, he tried to pin down what was going on and make it viable in both cities, and he was essentially told to get stuffed.
    The universities are a law into themselves.
    http://m.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/education/university-chief-im-fed-up-over-expansion-delay-28500520.html

  • Steve

    If you’d read the article you’d have seen the below stated in its 3rd-last paragraph ;o)

    “Ironically, Magee college was a campus of Trinity College Dublin for 60yrs until it was given to the New University of Ulster in 1969”.

  • Oggins

    Sorry Steve!

    Was power reading, had a quick five minutes for lunch and a read!

    Learnt some new today!

    http://library.ulster.ac.uk/magee/history.htm

  • Oggins
  • Oggins

    Learnt something new today. It was associated with Trinity right up to the late 60s.

  • notimetoshine

    You make Derry sound like some utopian vision of a small European city. I don’t think anyone would really make a serious claim to Derry (or Belfast for that matter) being a ‘beautiful’ city. Granted it has its walls and the Foyle, but it is hardly a showstopper.

    But you haven’t made out what Derry could do for a University. That is Derry’s problem, it doesn’t have that much going for it. It has some literary, theatrical and artistic traditions yes, but so does nearly every Irish city, it is hardly unique in that respect. Derry’s proximity to natural beauty again is not a unique trait, Ireland again being known for its natural beauty. Derry’s location is also not ideal. Too far from a major airport or even the major cities. I’m not trying to do Derry down, but it hasn’t really made the case, especially in comparison to Belfast.

    Belfast is the natural place for university expansion and while yes you can talk about the lack of investment in the Northwest, Belfast is far better placed for the development of UU. Of course a major University development would do Derry huge economic and social good, but what is in it for the University? It is always going to be a second choice to Belfast. The only solution is to force the government to develop the University in Derry, they certainly won’t do it out of choice.

    It is the old chicken and egg problem. A well funded University is important to the development of Derry as a viable alternative to Belfast yet the University needs that development of the city to happen first in order to attract it there.

    The one thing I know should not happen is for Magee to become a third University as I have heard more and more voices calling for. It would end up a second rate institution on shaky financial footing, offering poor quality degrees, like many of the new UK unis.

  • SilentMajority

    I appreciate much of what you say especially about a chicken and egg situation.

    In reality however decisions on university provision in NI have been made by the Government (probably in cahoots with or under pressure from university management), not by private institutions seeking the best location for their needs and business. Belfast received the UU because the elites / intelligentsia based in Belfast ensured that it was located there and this has nothing to do with what Belfast has to ‘offer’ over Derry.

    At heart this is a political decision and nothing to do with attractions or relative merits of the places. Issues of equity, regional development and sharing wealth were over ridden to retain the normality in the east as part of the UK and what some see as having the same privileges as say Surrey, but deny these same privileges to other parts.

    Comparing Derry and Belfast is like comparing apples and oranges really. Derry is a small city and this for many reasons is part of its appeal, although it has also significant problems (as do many parts of Belfast away from the golden suburbs). I personally do not see Belfast as an example of city form it should follow, indeed quite the opposite, and think Derry should set a limit to its development, stay as a small compact city, and let other nearby places also develop in a sharing manner.

    Belfast thrives because of this power situation and not necessarily because of great airport and international connections ,culture etc., and the universities in it largely survive on students from the remainder of NI supporting them and keeping them afloat. It as such sucks the life and vitality out of the rest of NI to survive and grow and uses a UK taxpayer subsidy inappropriately and unfairly allocated/distributed to do this.

    It is a sore point for many and a poor reflection and shameful inditement on NI but in reality par for the course in this place and in reality as Brian Walker has stated a fait accompli and, as such, probably too late for any balance or change to happen.

    University provision in NI is probably now exhausted and this debate, including my own contribution, is all probably hot air!

  • Steve

    Two main points here.

    Firstly – what is this notion that Derry somehow has to pass a major beauty contest of attributed to be deemed worthy of a Uni. The city is certainly no less eligible than Limerick or Galway, both of which are smaller cities that have had universities for years. It is no less attractive than the likes of Luton and Stafford, with their own Unis. And it is no less remote than Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, Lampeter or Aberystwyth – all of which again have universities. In the real world, governments understand the huge value universities can have in promoting regional economic growth and balance and in enabling regions to compete via increasing their employee skills base. Hence they support a good spread of Unis. They don’t have an education guru stroking a white cat and demanding that Derry dance for them and wiggle its arse so it can decide of its an attractive enough location to be honoured with a University.

    Secondly – You could make an argument that Belfast is the natural place to put pretty much everything in NI. Just like a argument could be made that the natural place for everything on the island is Dublin, or in the UK is London. Again – in the real world, governments want the whole of their jurisdictions to work, not just one bit of it. Only one third of NI’s population lives in Greater Belfast, and they already have the vast majority of resources, energy and finances spent on them as it is. The entire concept of Northern Ireland as a meaningful entity is being completely eroded and replaced by a de-facto Belfast city state because of attitudes similar to yours which promote extreme centralisation.

    Finally we can both agree that the only solution in this excuse for a sensibly run place like NI is to force the Government to do what governments everywhere would do automatically. And that is to make some decent attempt at regional economic balance, starting with a University in Derry. You probably don’t want money spent on things like the A5 either, as that has no relevance to Belfast and would only be an expensive distraction form centralising everything in the one place.

  • Roger

    2011 CSO stats for Limerick (57,106); Galway (75,529)
    2001 (didn’t see more recent) for Derry (83,652).

    Hadn’t appreciated Derry was bigger than those two or that Limerick was quite so small…

    It’s quite an indictment of the local politicians that City’s university status is so modest…

  • Roger

    Nothing to do with Brexit but a genuine cross border Uni would be a challenge for visa required nationals owing to the CTA not being a common visa zone….They’d need IRL and UK visas.

  • Roger

    Never knew that either John; thanks.

  • Brian Walker

    Steve, can you address the question: what is actually wrong with Magee and its future plans today? A generation ago it would have been a medium sized campus. Has the UK not reached Peak Uni to the detriment of developing vocational skills?

    If it’s expand or die slowly for Magee in its present form, is this is not where part of the future lies?

    You quote as I do Welsh examples. In their favour is the greater political pull of rural Wales and the the historic resistance to the domination of Cardiff and Swansea now reinforced by stable devolution.. There are parallels there with east-west tensions in NI. But Wales is a much bigger catchment area that is unlikely to be matched in NI by any conceivable cross-border demand in favour of Magee.

    Even if major vocational development is out, is the status quo not good enough? Not all students thrive in the overcrowded world of mega campuses where they are barely recognised by their teachers. Small can be beautiful, like Lampeter and perhaps Magee. .

  • Brian Walker

    But Magee was founded as a branch office for Presbyterian theological studies. Degrees had to be completed in TCD. There was clearly no future in this, Magee survived as a sop to the University for Derry campaign which had cross community and liberal unionist support against the faceless men” who rightly feared that a university for Derry would strike a fatal blow to the gerrymander. I reckon Magee didn’t fare badly out of uni expansion

  • john millar

    “But Magee was founded as a branch office for Presbyterian theological studies. Degrees had to be completed in TCD. There was clearly no future in this”
    Hardly– there was (is?) a certain cachet about TCD graduates who looked down their noses at QUB

  • just_another_girl

    While I can agree that it appears UU doesn’t want to spend much time thinking of their Derry campus, I have to disagree with the notion that Derry should have money pumped into it. I was a student in Derry for a year before transferring to Coleraine. The accommodation is much nicer, and more expensive, in Derry than it is in Coleraine. That’s the only half compliment I can give the Derry campus. Despite being in the city, I found far less to do than in Coleraine, with beaches and amazing landmarks a stones throw away from campus. Perhaps Derry campus should focus more on student satisfaction and not just rely on the numerous pubs in the area to entertain all their students, before UU thinks of offering them more money.

  • Timothyhound

    Derry should and could take a leaf out of Galways book. Small European city with a thriving tourism sector, a global centre for medtech and a solid university. But Galway has motorway link to Dublin and reasonable rail services. Get on with the A5 and sort out the substandard infrastructure and see the catchment area stretch to Sligo. Oh – and wake up to the lunacy of Brexit.

  • SilentMajority

    CSO City population figures in Ireland have been the subject of some debate and even manipulation with various figures postulated for all sorts of reasons.

    Limerick’s boundaries have been tightly drawn (the city authorities are trying to get them altered to reflect the City) whilst Galway’s have been expanded to include nearby areas. As such whilst Galway has expanded dramatically in recent years to a population of 79,000 this is still below the true population of what most regard as the Limerick City which is around the 100,000 mark (some figures at 95,000 and others suggest just over the 100,000). Cork has a City population of 119,000 but is promoting itself as a city of around 300,000 by adding very settlement, village or house within a wide radius. Derry is still regarded as the 4th City in Ireland with a population greater than Limerick but less than Cork. Dublin and Belfast are are of course, as 1st and 2nd cities in Ireland, of a completely different nature and extent to any of the other cities in Ireland.

    In the 1960’s in a plan for Derry it was described as ‘a giant amongst pygmies’ reflecting its size relative to other settlements in its wider catchment. Partition and the NI State policies have done their level best to try to make it shrink with a wish it would perhaps disappear. Some of the pygmies, such as Letterkenny in a different jurisdiction and with a regional policy applied differently have been in comparison rising up and flourishing.

    Belfast City interestingly on a Wikipedia page is stated to be 532,928 (actual 270,000), Urban Area 847,153 (actual is probably 575,000) and Met Area as 1,390,127! I don’t how what the final figure is supposed to relate to as it appears to count most of Northern Ireland as being in the Belfast Met Area!

    In terms of this debate on university provision in Derry and NI, Cork university has 20,000 students, Limerick 15,000 students, Galway over 17,000 and Maynooth 11,000. This puts Derry’s position in perspective with less than half of even Maynooth but a quarter to one third of the university places of other equivalent sized cities.

    The contribution to the sustenance of these cities is immense and they would be consider;y smaller and less vibrant without the universities (as would Belfast. Just imagine Belfast without QUB, its students and 3000 staff. A significant part of South Belfast would not exist!)

  • SilentMajority

    Sorry to hear that you did not enjoy your time at Magee, Others have of course a different experience and it is perhaps ‘horses for courses’.

    Sometimes people find what they want to find or seek or make a place fit a preconceived notion.

    The North Coast is a fantastic location and I agree fully with you on that. Portstewart, Portrush and the beautiful beaches etc., are a magnificent asset for students, although also located away from the campus by bus and train.

    Derry has also however beautiful beaches not too far from its Magee campus (e.g. Lisfannon/Fahan which can be reached within 20 mins from Derry (similar to journeys from UU in Coleraine to Portstewart and Portrush) as well as Grianan of Aileach Fort, Inch Island and walkways, Lough Foyle, Moville, Greencastle and Downhill beach, plus many hills and mountains for hill walking, river walks along both sides of the River Foyle in Derry and a number of parks within the city and nearby such as at Ness Falls and Prehen Woods, all within a short journey. Students can visit or live nearby any of these facilities also if that is their desire and nature as well as have the bars, pubs, theatre, nightlife etc.,

    The UU campus at Coleraine is however in my opinion a bit of a let down and not really integrated in to the town of Coleraine. At one stage this suited the town as, due to the number of students populating it from Derry and the general west of NI, it became known locally as the ‘Papish City’ and there was a general feeling that a Trojan Horse had been brought in to the town with all these strange people, playing GAA etc., There was even at one stage a loyalist based ‘Anti Student League’ of local thugs. Very welcoming indeed!

  • Roger

    Thanks for that. I like a giant amongst pygmies.

  • Goretti Horgan

    No one seems to have mentioned the cap on maximum student numbers (known as the MaSN) in local universities.This cap makes it difficult for any of UU’s campuses to expand. We are now the only region of the UK which continues to have a MaSN cap. This makes no economic sense as forcing young people to go to University in Britain means £9,000 a year fees and the additional costs of living so far from home. Scrap the MaSN cap and there would be some hope for Magee. Keep it and Derry has no hope of a University appropriate for the size of the town.

  • SilentMajority

    The sentence ‘…I have to disagree with the notion that Derry should have money pumped into it’ although accompanied and somewhat balanced by the first part recognising the UU doesn’t have much thought for Magee, for some reason triggered a memory of mine.

    Around 30 years ago I was working with a senior Civil Servant (who in the intervening period become a high ranking, top Civil Servant) and when he found out I was originally from Derry (I was working in Belfast and living in Co.Down at the time) used to talk affectionately to me about the ‘old smoke’ and his time in Derry as he was climbing up the greasy pole and spent a few years there in the 1970’s.

    One day however he was discussing Derry, regional development and possible major investment, including at Eglinton airport, with someone else, with whom it became obvious that he had a friendship and confidence with at some level and shared a certain political viewpoint, not realising that I was also party to the discussion. He went in to a tirade about how ‘that place’ should be getting nothing and that he was strongly against any development or funding for Derry and was clearly referencing the Civil Rights demonstrations as indicative of it as as a seed bed of discontent and trouble makers for the union and retention of the status quo in NI. I could not believe what I heard.

    It also reminds me of a comment a dear friend of mine from Derry and who has long family roots in Derry, although of a different background to my own. During a chat one day he referred to Derry’s problem being that it was too working class and this was not even tongue-in-cheek.

    I personally regard working class as some thing to be praised and not belittled.

    Perhaps these images or portrayals are why some do not like Magee also.

  • doopa

    It’s only 70 miles. The distance a high speed rail link could bridge in under an hour. You also assume all the staff live in Belfast. And don’t commute from other places,like I dunno Derry.

  • doopa

    Trinity and UCD are pumping out many graduates, and there are no shortage of good jobs down in Dublin. The cost is much lower than UK and their global ranking is much higher than Ulster.

  • doopa

    The generation war isn’t just a result of you making the youngsters pay for education. It’s more to do with Wrecking the planet and the whole pension/housing thing.

  • Steve

    The cap situation in both NI and Britain was mentioned in the article.

    Even without a MaSN in NI, Ulster Uni has shown no genuine desire to follow through its verbal commitment to double the size of Magee campus. So if you’ll excuse the pun, it would be an academic exercise in that regard if it was removed. Ulster would still hold all its other campuses as higher priorities.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    If there were more things to do in the city centre then could it get in on the English school bandwagon?

    I think it’s mental how much money people pay for a year in Dublin just for language practice.

  • Steve

    Derry has a couple of language schools already – including one run out of NWIFHE. Foyle Language School have been going for decades. Definitely scope for more. But this is where a University would help by having student halls that are empty in the summer and therefore available to rent for short-term uses like this. Language students would need somewhere to stay, and not all would want to be placed with families.

  • Steve

    There are a number of things wrong with the size of Magee.

    1) Derry has the lowest student provision of any University town in Ireland, and the lowest per capita of anywhere offering HE courses (which includes the likes of Letterkenny, Sligo, Athlone etc). This clearly points to Derry’s situation as being unusual and exceptional in a negative sense.

    2) Derry consistently has the highest unemployment of any town or city in the UK and Ireland. It also has a demonstrable shortage of skills amongst its labour force, which contributes towards the unemployment problem. A University would help tackle both.

    3) You’ll note that no stakeholders, educationalists, credible commentators etc aresaying that Derry shouldn’t have a bigger University. Stormont has never said it, Ministers have never said it, and even Ulster Uni themselves have never said Magee should stay as it currently is. Instead, they’ve repeatedly given assurances that they want to see the Uni doubled in size. So they therefore accept that it needs to happen as well (they just don’t follow through with the action to bring that sentiment into reality).

    4) Why should Derry have to settle for Magee as it is currently constituted ? Why should it have to settle for having the worst provision of HE on the island, and the highest unemployment that that contributes to ?

  • Christopher Mc Camley

    The time for Derry will be when Coleraine closes.