No £126m Bailout for Ulster University - Without Magee Expansion.

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BACKGROUND

For over 20 years Ulster University (UU) has been promising to expand its Magee campus in Derry-Londonderry to 10,000 full-time students. Despite being NI’s second city, there are currently only 4,300 students in Derry – whilst Belfast has over 40,000 across two universities. Northern Ireland has a shortage of university places, with a third of all students leaving annually to study (most never returning to live in NI)

DERRY NEEDS A PROPER UNIVERSITY

Derry has the highest unemployment in NI (2.5 times average), and one of the highest rates in the UK. Doubling the size of Magee would provide the single biggest boost to the city’s economy, and has been the council’s number one objective for 20 years. The newly restored Stormont Assembly made significant Magee expansion one of its main priorities in the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement.

Despite all this, Ulster Uni has consistently failed to fulfil two decades worth of promises to Derry. Instead it has moved students, staff & courses AWAY from Magee to UU campuses in the east of NI.

ULSTER UNI IS IN FINANCIAL CRISIS

In 2011 UU announced that it was relocating 13,000 students from its Jordanstown campus. Instead of moving them to Derry, Ulster is instead building a new £360m purpose-built campus in the middle of Belfast. It is the biggest building project in Northern Ireland, on NI’s most expensive land, and UU have called it “the regeneration, economic, business and social opportunity of the century". Belfast hadn’t been asking Ulster to expand there (unlike Derry).

Since then Ulster University have mismanaged the project, and it is now four years late and £110m over-budget. The EU withdrew a €150m loan in frustration, and the banks are unwilling to provide further finance. So Ulster is unable to complete the building work. Their ill-judged decision to prioritise a move to Belfast has crippled them financially and organisationally. UU’s Vice-Chancellor is leaving for a new job in Australia.

Ulster University are now seeking a £126m bail out ‘loan’ from Stormont to complete this project. The money will essentially be used to fund debt, and will not provide a single extra student place in Northern Ireland. It is also unclear whether UU will ever be able to pay it back.

DOUBLE STANDARDS

In 2003 Ulster University announced their intention to establish a Medical School in Derry. Since they they have failed to deliver it. They are now stating that the project will only progress if Derry pays for it itself, by handing over £45m from its £105m City Deal funding. None of the £360m UU is spending on its new Belfast campus is coming from that city’s City Deal funding. The message from UU is clear. Its priority is Belfast – and despite all its promises, if Derry wants more students it must pay for them itself.

The strength of feeling within Derry on this issue cannot be over-stated. The 1960s decision to snub the city when creating NI’s second university was a key factor in the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement (and by consequence The Troubles). The quest for a proper university in Derry has been a constant campaigning issue and sore point for the last fifty years.

NO UNCONDITIONAL BAILOUT FROM STORMONT

Expanding student numbers in Belfast is not an agreed priority for the Northern Ireland government, whilst expanding university provision in Derry is. It would be unacceptable for Stormont to provide unconditional funding to rescue UU from maladministration, whilst at the same time failing to deliver on its own priority of major university expansion in Derry.

WE DEMAND THAT...

Stormont refuse any bailout loan for Ulster University, unless & until the following 5 conditions are met:

1) UU provide a detailed, credible and binding business case for how and when it will expand capacity in Derry to 10,000 full-time student places – with a deadline for complete delivery by 2030.

2) UU provide a legal charge over its Magee campus to the NI government as collateral for any loan.

3) If Ulster fails to deliver 10,000 FT students to Derry by 31st December 2029, Stormont’s loan must be repaid in-full by UU.

4) If UU are unable to repay the loan in full on that date, Magee campus will be legally transferred to the NI Government for the creation of a new independent University in Derry. Any difference between the value of the site and the amount due from UU will still remain outstanding.

5) If UU are unwilling to agree to these terms for the £126m loan, funding should only be provided to them in return for the sale of Magee to enable the establishment of an independent university in Derry. Because it is clear that their overwhelming priority is Belfast, and not Derry.

The agreed ‘New Decade’ Programme for Government commits Stormont to major university expansion in Derry - but not Belfast. There is no agreed basis on which Stormont can fund the latter but not the former. There must therefore be no unconditional State bailout for Ulster University, and no loan unless UU delivers on Stormont’s agreed objective of major University expansion for Derry.

Derry University Group

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