The British government this week agreed to publish a report in September on the establishment of a new university whose principal campus will be in Derry. An amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill was moved by Lord Andrew Adonis, a British Labour Party politician, academic and journalist, that it “must include a report on the improvement of higher education provision in Northern Ireland and the establishment of a university whose principal campus is in Derry/Londonderry.” The amendment was agreed in the House of Lords, a decision Lord Adonis described as “good news for young people in Derry and the whole province.” Lord Adonis has taken it upon himself to champion the cause of Derry in front of the upper house of parliament. He felt compelled to bring the issue before the House of Lords after several visits to Derry where he met with business leaders and educators who shared with him the importance of increased student numbers to the city’s economic growth and overall prosperity. The Labour peer branded it a “sectarian and social scandal” that Ulster’s second city of Derry has no university with its principal campus in the city. “I witnessed the great strength of feeling about this first-hand when I visited Derry last year and saw how inadequate the small Magee campus of Ulster University there is,” he explained. “It is high time that the young people of Northern Ireland are given the chance to purse higher education in this great city, which is why I raised it in the House of Lords yesterday.” Speaking in the House, Lord Kilclooney, a former Ulster Unionist Party Northern Irish MP who earlier this year was accused of racism after referring to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a “typical Indian” refuted Lord Adonis’s claim that the Lockwood Committee’s decision to locate a university in Coleraine rather than Derry was indeed a sectarian one. He said: “I was a Minister in Northern Ireland during the period. The committee was headed by Lockwood, who was an English academic. He produced a report on a second university for Northern Ireland; he recommended not Londonderry but Coleraine. “Runner-up to Coleraine was the city of Armagh. It was not a sectarian decision; it was made by an impartial English academic. It is slanderous to suggest that he was sectarian.” However, alluding to successive decades of underinvestment Mr Adonis yesterday told the Derry News: “No matter what the motives behind these decisions were, the result is that Derry has unfairly lost out and its young people deserve better. “The past should not govern the future. Yet the situation is getting worse not better.” Figures gathered by the Derry News under Freedom of Information legislation, and published last month, show that student numbers in the city actually fell from 4,658 in 2014/15 to 4,313 in 2018/19. This comes at the same time UU created a new and much larger campus in Belfast city centre at a cost of £250-300m. The university has attributed a reduction in student numbers and “expansion challenges” in Derry to higher education budget cuts. At Monday’s debate, Baroness O'Loan defended Ulster University’s position insisting that the building infrastructure at Jordanstown was not capable of being sustained leaving it with no option but to relocate.
UU’s decision While, Lord Empey, a former leader of the UUP, and Minister responsible for further and higher education who dealt with Ulster University at some length said he supported the proposition of a medical school in Derry. However, he added that the decision of where to invest was down to the university alone and UU “made very clear to us what it wanted to do. It said: we want to rebuild our Jordanstown campus and put it in the centre of Belfast. Will you support us or not? “It was not a question of Londonderry versus Belfast—that option was not open. It had made its decision.” Meaningful change can be brought about as a result of this report which, Mr Adonis says, is a significant first step towards increasing student numbers in Northern Ireland and the establishment of a new university with its principal campus in Derry - "I hope action will follow,” he added. “It is realistic to believe that Derry can have a standalone university since it is the norm for cities the size of Derry across the UK to have universities of their own. Derry is unusual only in being so acutely disadvantaged. It is scandalous that this issue was not addressed years ago.” Asked if he will continue to advocate on Derry’s behalf, he added: “Absolutely! I will follow the government’s report in September closely and continue to push for Derry to have a university with its principal campus in the city. This has to happen.”
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