A spokesperson for the Derry University Group has responded to the report on higher education published by Julian Smith.
We welcome the clarity provided by this report and intend to respond in full in due course.
At the outset, we wish to thank Lord Andrew Adonis, the Shadow Employment Minister Mike Amesbury MP and the Shadow Schools Minister Mike Kane MP for championing this issue at Westminster, and also the authors of this report.
The Shadow Education Minister Angela Rayner has also raised the prospect of Derry availing of Transformation Funding (from a future government) and we thank her for that proposal.
On initial reading, this report provides a roadmap as to how the North West can develop its own autonomous university. The door is now wide open for an independent higher education institution for the North West.
It provides us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city-region, as long as we are prepared to grasp it. It is now almost 60 years since the campaign for a Derry university first began.
Specifically, the report raises a number of questions, which must be answered if we are to redress what parliamentarians are now referring to as ‘the last-remaining civil rights issue’.
What legislation will be necessary to ensure that the new Derry-centred university will transcend both sides of the border, as regards teaching provision, R&D, student intake and administration?
What legislation will be required from Dublin, London and Europe, to ensure revenue funding for a standalone cross-border university in the North West?
If a HE provider from Southern Ireland, where student fees are lower, were to become a partner in the new NW university, would fees here also be lower?
Is there any impediment to the National University of Ireland applying for a Charter to establish a university whose main campus is Derry? The report suggests that the institution seeking degree-awarding powers should be ‘physically operating’ in Northern Ireland. Can Derry/Strabane Council be the anchor ‘operating’ partner, with NUI as the provider?
Can an accredited further education provider, such as the North West Regional College, apply for degree-awarding powers? What processes must it complete?
Derry/Strabane Council is applying directly to the United Kingdom Government (‘UKG’) for funding for a medical school for the North West. What action is council taking as regards applying to ‘UKG’, and other governments, for funding for an independent university for the North West?
Can Derry/Strabane Council now operate its proposed Medical School with a new HE provider (ie other than Ulster University) at Magee?
Will central government now increase the MaSN Cap, which restricts the number of HE students in the North, to accommodate the development of a new university in the North West?
Can central government ensure that the new independent NW university stays viable by ensuring that the minimum cap for the new institution remains permanently at 10,000 (i.e. the number of students promised by Ulster University for Magee for 2020)?
In February 2019, the Department for the Economy, wrote to UU asking for ‘its rationale for locating additional higher education places in the Magee Campus’. Seven months on, UU still had not replied to its most significant funder. Given the crisis in third-level education in the North West, and the need for the region to entrust its educational provision in the hands of those who will take it seriously, what other providers/partners has Derry/Strabane council approached as regards developing HE provision in the North West?
As an interim measure, we call on Derry/Strabane council to establish a dedicated Higher Education Development & Scrutiny Committee immediately.
This committee must meet urgently with the National University of Ireland, Letterkenny IT and the NW Regional College, as it draws up a strategic plan for a new, independent cross-border university.
It must also liaise directly, and urgently, with Donegal County Council and the governments in London, Dublin and Brussels to discuss funding opportunities and administrative alignments.
There is no time to be lost. These arrangements cannot wait for the re-establishment of Stormont or the settling of Brexit. This is much too important an issue.
The momentum is with the North West and with the campaign for an independent university.
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