The 50th anniversary of the Lockwood Report which recommended the establishment of a new University in Coleraine instead of Derry will focus much attention on the present campaign for expansion of Magee.
I agree that we need to increase pressure on DEL Minister Stephen Farry to deliver on the Programme for Government commitment to the ‘One Plan’ which has expansion of Magee as a central plank for regional economic regeneration.
But this must be done, not in a point scoring exercise by individual politicians but with a Unity of Purpose and a single voice coming out of the North West region demanding what should have been delivered 50 years ago.
The injustice of the decision to deprive Derry of university status in 1965 needs redressed.
While we can all point fingers in whatever direction suits us politically it will not deliver the change in focus required to deliver the result that we all want. What was missing over the past 50 years was the political will to achieve a University for Derry. That political will now exists.
We are now in a new situation with the deputy First Minister determined to deliver on the Magee project, we have the new expanded Council with increased powers coming on stream in April and the political landscape reconfigured.
All of this allows for a new focus, and the establishment of the Executive Ministerial Sub-Group on the North West by Martin Mc Guinness will drive the process of change that will deliver the political authority needed in the Magee campaign.
It is no accident that Martin invited the Further Education Minister onto the sub-group and I believe that the acceptance to be part of the group by Stephen Farry demonstrates that he is at least willing to pursue the case for expansion. He has already indicated his intention to bid, within months, for the £11 million required to construct the new teaching block at Magee this year. That bid will certainly be supported by Sinn Fein and would represent a major investment and physical expansion at Magee.
The Minister has also signalled the potential for a significant increase in student numbers in the new Assembly mandate which begins next year. In order to achieve that, we need to consolidate the political will which the sub group initiative by Martin McGuinness has helped to generate. That is the best way to ensure that Magee is prioritised by all Executive Ministers.
While some politicians prefer to deflect any responsibility for the failures of the past from their own party – despite having held the Universities ministerial portfolio in previous Executives – I believe what is required is a unity of purpose to ensure the expansion of Magee is delivered.
In the immediate term, that means focusing pressure where the decision making power lies. That is at the door of the Ulster University (UU) who have ultimate responsibility for dispersal of finance allocated to it by Minister Farry. It also has the option of approaching the European Investment Bank as they did to fund its new Belfast Campus.
I hope the new Vice Chancellor of UU is radical in his ambition and vision in terms of growing Magee. If so he should begin by reversing last week’s decision to cut a number of courses at Magee.
There is now a well drafted and constructed business case for expansion with Minister Farry which has been signed off by the Chamber of Commerce, Derry City Council and Ulster University Magee. I believe the new UU Vice-Chancellor should take cognisance of this consensus and deliver on the critical requirement to the economic regeneration of the North West region that Magee expansion is.
Magee is a cross border campus in terms of attracting students and plays a major part in the North West Education Gateway initiative. The new Derry Strabane Council’s integrated economic strategy will also have a clear focus on Magee expansion which, in turn, would be complemented by the ambitions of the North West Regional College to provide accreditation for its pupils in STEM subjects to allow step up to degree courses at Magee.
Half a century on from Lockwood, Derry is still dealing with the legacy of that scandalous decision. However, I believe the political will and conditions now exist for us to finally redress that legacy by securing the expansion to Magee. This city and our young people deserve nothing less.
By working together we can achieve it.