23 May 2022

£126 million Ulster University loan a 'slap in the face' for Derry

Derry City and Strabane District Council seeking assurances over the expansion of its Magee campus from Stormont

Ulster University defers decision on health courses

Ulster University at Magee

Derry City and Strabane District Council has called on Stormont not to give Ulster University a £126 million loan for its Belfast campus without any assurances over the expansion of its Magee campus in Derry.
The council's Governance and Strategic Planning Committee voted unanimously for a motion put forward by People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin when it met on Tuesday afternoon.
The committee also unanimously voted to meet with the Derry University Group (DUG) lobby group to discuss the current crisis facing Magee.
Earlier this week, the Derry University Group launched an online petition calling on Stormont to refuse the bailout of Ulster University's Belfast campus until Derry's Magee campus was expanded.  
Cllr Harkin also called for the new incoming interim vice-chancellor of Ulster University to meet with council and “explain what is happening.”
The current vice- chancellor, Paddy Nixon, is stepping down this month.
"Ulster University is now seeking a £126 million loan from Stormont to complete the Belfast project, due to a £110 million overspend," said Councillor Harkin.
"This is a slap in  the face for the people of Derry and the North West who have been campaigning for a long time and have been told recently there is no money for expansion at Magee."
Councillor Harkin said he supported the DUG petition.
"They should not grant this unconditionally, they should fulfil a longstanding promise to Magee," he added.
SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly said there was a demand for changes to how universities are funded.
Student numbers are currently strictly regulated by the Department for Employment and Learning which dictates the size of the full-time undergraduate population.
"The issue is we need the Maximum Aggregate Student Numbers  (MASN)   cap in place removed, whether at Magee or a new independent university," he commented.
Sinn Fein Coun- cillor Michael Cooper said whilst petitions were helpful and would gather support, the incoming interim vice- chancellor must meet with the council.
DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock agreed that an urgent special meeting was needed.
The council's chief executive, John Kelpie, told the meeting a letter had been sent inviting the incoming interim vice-chancellor to meet with council and he had replied to say he would make it a priority when he took up the post next month. 
'Going nowhere'
Aontu Councillor Anne McCloskey said plans to expand Magee were “going no where” and said she, too, wished to meet with the vice-chancellor and Derry University Group.
"I can't see any way forward given the mathematics of the finances as they currently stand," she told the meeting.
Councillor Harkin's party colleague, Councillor Eamon McCann, said: "We should ensure he leaves the meeting with a flea in his ear.
"We absolutely won't stand for this any more.
"Why should we be at the back of the queue with our begging bowl.
"It would be laughable if it weren't so tragic for Derry,” added Cllr McCann.

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