Agenda item

Options for University Provision in the North West (Ref GSP8/20)

Minutes:

Councillor Harkin referred to the outstanding recommendations which had

been agreed at the previous Meeting of Committee.  He expressed concern that Ulster University were now seeking a £126m bail out ‘loan’ from the Stormont Executive to address its £110m overspend in respect of the relocation of students from the Jordanstown Campus to central Belfast.  This money would essentially be used to fund debt and would not create any additional student places in Northern Ireland.  He stated that this was a “slap in the face” for the people of Derry who had long campaigned for the expansion of the Magee Campus and had been recently advised that there was no funding available for this project.  As a result, thereof, The Derry University Group had launched an online petition to oppose the payment of this “bailout” by Stormont without the expansion of the Magee Campus.  He urged that Council support this petition.  He continued that this money should not be granted unconditionally and UU should honour its longstanding commitment to Magee.  He suggested that Council should feel outraged if the Executive agreed to provide this funding. 

 

Councillor Reilly acknowledged the online petition and said his Party were conscious of the demand for changes in the way in which universities were funded.  Currently student numbers were strictly regulated by the Department for Economy which dictated the size of the full-time undergraduate population.  He referred to comments made by the Senior Economist at the previous Meeting of Committee regarding the need for the MaSN cap for the City to be removed, irrespective of who was responsible for delivering university provision in the City, because without this being removed there would not be any real growth.  He referred to the need for the Executive to consider the removal of this cap with the beneficiaries being the people of this region.

 

Councillor Cooper agreed that changes to the MaSN cap were key in terms of delivering university provision in the City and region.  He suggested that whilst petitions were helpful and would draw support, it was imperative that the incoming interim Vice Chancellor met with Council to address the major issues of concern in regards to the University’s position and future proposals.  He suggested that any formal course of action be deferred pending the outcome of such a Meeting.

 

Alderman McClintock expressed her support for such a Meeting to take place.

 

Councillor McCloskey said it would appear that plans to expand the Magee

Campus were futile and there was no solid commitment from Ulster University in respect of any proposed expansion.  She stated that whilst the proposed Medical School was a worthwhile proposal this was somewhat lacking in terms of the promises made by the University over the past twenty years. She referred to the need for Council to formalise its approach towards the University and issue an ultimatum.  The failure of the University’s relocation of Nursing and Allied Health Courses to the Magee Campus would be a clear indication of its lack of commitment to the City.  She suggested that Council formally consider alternative options in partnership with civic and interested bodies regarding university provision in the City.

 

The Chief Executive advised Members that a letter had been sent inviting the incoming interim Vice Chancellor to meet with Council.  A response had subsequently been received indicating that this would be treated as a priority by the interim Vice Chancellor following his appointment in March.

 

Councillor McCann said it was difficult to have confidence in the University given the ongoing bias and discrimination which it had directed at the City over the past sixty years.  He said it was important that the interim Vice Chancellor was made aware of the sense of anger felt throughout the City at the University’s lack of commitment to the Magee Campus. 

 

Councillor Harkin said he felt it was important that Council emphasised the level of outrage felt throughout the City and expressed its support for the Derry University Group’s online petition.  He also expressed concern that the Department for Economy had recently indicated that the Business Case submitted in respect of the expansion of the Magee Campus was now obsolete and would have to be rewritten, which presented a major concern.

 

Councillor Cooper reiterated that from his Party’s perspective it was imperative that the interim Vice Chancellor addressed Council at the earliest possible date to elaborate on the University’s financial request to the Executive and the impact thereof on proposals in respect of the expansion of the Magee Campus.  It would also be necessary to address with him the position in regards to the Business Case and the commitment from the Executive and Irish government.

 

Alderman McClintock said she understood the issue regarding the Business Case would be raised with the Minister for Economy the following day.

 

The Chief Executive reminded Members that in 2016 Council had undertaken and funded the Business Case in respect of the expansion of the Magee Campus which had proved a substantial piece of work and had presented the case for additional MaSN for the City.  He stated that the principles set out in the Business Case were as relevant today as they had been when initially presented to the Department in 2016.

 

Subsequently, the Committee

 

Recommended       (a) that a Meeting be arranged with Derry University Group, as soon as possible, to discuss their proposals in respect of university provision in the City; and

 

(b) that Council call on the Stormont Executive

not to agree to a request from Ulster University

for a sum of £126m without any commitment

being given in respect of the expansion of the

Magee Campus.