29 Sept 2022

Derry councillors rail against Ulster University's 'decades of discrimination'

Local councillors are united in their “outrage” towards Ulster University for what many perceive as decades of “discrimination” and a failure to increase student numbers in Derry. A motion tabled by Councillor Eamonn McCann urged Council to support all options for university provision in the North West, including the expansion of Magee and options for an independent university put forward by other groups such as the Derry University Group (DUG). It was unanimously passed at a meeting of full Council on July 18. Cllr McCann, of People Before Profit, described as “unexpected” last week’s intervention by Lord Adonis when he successfully convinced the House of Lords to publish a report on university provision in NI and the establishment of a university whose principal campus is in Derry. He welcomed it, while noting, that he doesn’t believe Lords should be accorded any more attention than others who have campaigned over the years. Having the issue highlighted in The Guardian newspaper helped lift it up the agenda, he said, and “something ought to be done about this discrimination”. He refuted any suggestion that exploring alternative options would have a negative impact on Derry’s City Deal and said that, if delivered, the medical school wouldn’t bring anywhere close to the number of students promised by UU in the past – 10,000, 15,000 and even 20,000 students have been mooted in the past. Cllr McCann added that other ways forward must be reviewed rather than “depending on Ulster University to bring it to us”. Sinn Féin Cllr Sandra Duffy said it is not a revelation that Derry has been denied a university “and we continue to see the outworking of it today”. While “not opposed to an independent university” she believes the quickest way to achieve university status is by putting pressure on UU. "We will look with interest to see the report, Westminster has rarely delivered, but the more third level education the better," she added. Independent Councillor Anne McCloskey said it requires people elected to Stormont to "get their asses back in there" and to stop "crying crocodile tears for a medical school". She made reference to a report that "castigated UU" after it was found guilty of a "disturbing lack of governance" during a staff redundancy process in 2016. And said her own brother who is a foremost researcher in the field of Physics was forced to take his expertise to Edinburgh after being "blocked" from setting up in Derry. Cllr McCloskey also alluded to the fact that Ulster University spent over £250m moving its Jordanstown Campus into Belfast city centre while Derry celebrated a student block worth £10m that brought no additional students. She added that an Independent University is possible if there is a political will to do it. ‘Payback’ Meanwhile, the SDLP's Sinead McLaughlin said she was concerned about UU's commitment to the City Deal. Citing £50m that will be given to UU for three innovation projects, she argued, "there has to be payback". “UU must commit to bringing other courses to the city as an act of goodwill, it has to transfer some medical facing courses to show its intentions are good,” she added. DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock believed that Stormont would be the "quickest" avenue through which a university could be achieved. She added: "We need a university and need it now." Independent Cllr Paul Gallagher accused UU of making "blatant sectarian decisions" and criticised local political leaders for taking up residence in "nice plush offices" while courses are "moved up the road". He said supposed "business cases" would be "shattered in the end" due to a reliance on UU. "How long are political leaders in the city going to sit around, decades, put an end to it." As someone who attended UU, SDLP Cllr Mary Durkan commended the work of the DUG, and said there is no sign of growth at Magee. A university is key to economic growth and the deep disillusionment within the local community is "completely warranted and justified" - "it's very important all options are scrutinised". Belfast native, now living in Derry, Alliance Cllr Philip McKinney, supported the motion saying the disparity in investment between the capital and NI's second city is evident. "They're constantly building in Belfast and there isn't even a motorway here." Discrimination Independent Cllr Gary Donnelly supported DUG's argument for a North West University and branded the lack of infrastructure in Derry as "institutionalised discrimination". "It has been going on for decades, since the inception of this artificial state. Direct or indirect, nothing has changed. "Some councillors have talked about getting Stormont up and running, it has never addressed this discrimination, it's a case of ruling by fooling." Summarising, Cllr McCann, circled back to comments made by Cllr McCloskey about her brother, and said he was astounded that someone could be "booted out" of his position in Derry and then end up in Scotland bringing with him investment to the tune of £20m, spent in Edinburgh instead of Derry. There wasn't enough "outrage" in Derry when UU relocated 13,000 students from Jordanstown to Belfast city centre and in his view Art History courses should have been moved to Derry as part of that process. "It's a scandalous situation that has been simmering for half a century."

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