University of Ulster: Magee Expansion

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:15 pm on 17th September 2013.

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Photo of Pat Ramsey Pat Ramsey Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:15 pm, 17th September 2013

In many regards, we welcome the debate; we welcome any debate that highlights and promotes the importance of Derry as an appropriate university city.  It is important that the Minister for Employment and Learning is here.  Clearly, it is not solely the responsibility of the Minister for Employment and Learning.  As the Member outlined, we have the One Plan to lead the way and to prioritise the needs of the region.  As the Minister is fully aware, one of the main priorities with the expansion of Magee is to accommodate almost 10,000 full-time students.  The mayor has convened a meeting on Friday with Richard Barnett and the key parliamentarians in the city to discuss a way forward.  The sponsoring body for the One Plan is the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.  They have a clear duty and responsibility.  They signed up to that plan but not to the delivery mechanism that is so important in delivering it.  At times, we strongly champion and advocate the cause of the present Minister for Employment and Learning.  In Committee or at Question Time, I share his frustration at times when we are lobbying for certain things.  However, there is a shared responsibility and duty.  If the priority in the One Plan is for the expansion of the Magee campus within the University of Ulster, and it is the economic driver of the One Plan, the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister has to come up to the mark.

There is no point in Sinn Féin coming in here and making demands of the Minister for Employment and Learning.  Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have a job to do.  They signed off on the One Plan, which is the economic driver of the regeneration of the city in terms of jobs.

We have to be honest with ourselves, mindful that the provost of Magee went on Radio 5 recently to say that Sinn Féin claimed that it had delivered on student numbers in 2011 during an election when it failed to do that.  The question that has to be put to Sinn Féin is this:  will it accept the responsibility that the First Minister and deputy First Minister have in their duty of care to deliver on this at the Executive?  They are only people who can deliver this project.

Without going over the history of what everyone has seen in the city — why Derry was ignored in the1960s, and why John Hume entered politics in 1966 — it was discrimination that the status of a university went to Coleraine and not to the second city.  Derry has borne a hurt and a wound since that occasion, and we are continually reminded of that.

Derry is going through a vibrant time.  I have never seen the people of the city feeling so good about themselves or taking such an immense sense of pride in what is happening there.  However, there is a consequence to that.  We want to ensure the legacy and opportunities of that for the coming generation of our young people, namely the economic regeneration driver of 10,000 students at Magee.

We were all disappointed on both occasions when the MaSN cap was relaxed.  We do not have to rehearse the arguments.  Queen's was informally contacted to make sure that it entered a bid in the first round.  How those student numbers were distributed is still a source of hurt.  Although the University of Ulster is clearly claiming that any increase in MaSN numbers will go to Magee, we have to be absolutely sure.  We were all disappointed — I raised the matter with the Minister recently — that the University of Ulster made a fundamental decision by removing the crèche facility at Magee.  We are trying to encourage further participation in third-level education, yet that decision was made.  At a time when we are trying to create an environment for 10,000 students and get the most marginalised into full-time education, that decision was wrong, Minister.  It was as wrong in Derry as it was at Jordanstown.

After this debate, we have to be absolutely sure.  The only people who can deliver this project for Derry and the region are the Executive, not solely the Minister for Employment and Learning.  He is certainly the guider and leader on this issue but we have to demand that the Executive listen and heed what they agreed in the principles of the One Plan and its main economic driver.  We should not shy away from that.  Regardless of whether Members who speak in the debate are party colleagues, Martin McGuinness has to take a much stronger lead in delivering this for his own city.