John Hume Cross-Border University is expected to be located in Derry
Derry is the fifth largest city on the island of Ireland, closely matching Limerick in terms of population. Of the six largest cities on the island, Derry is the only one without a university.
The decision in 1965 to establish the second university in Northern Ireland, now the University of Ulster, in Coleraine and not in Derry was heavily influenced by political and sectarian considerations. Had the right decision been made in 1965, Northern Ireland could have followed a different path in the decades that followed. Nationalists would have seen that a politically frozen system might be able to change by peaceful means. John Hume went on to claim that the decision not to build the new university in Derry was the immediate cause of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland and reduced the space for a peaceful solution to sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland.
It is never too late to right a wrong. However, I suggest that the ambition of having a full university in Derry should not be constrained by any borders. Derry, Ulster’s second largest city, is the capital of the North West region. The Irish government, under the leadership of An Taoiseach Michael Martin, is committed to the concept of a ‘shared island’ and is ready to support this commitment with substantial funding.
I believe a North West University based in Derry is an ideal project for a shared island approach. Existing higher education institutions in the region could be integrated into the governance and academic structures of the new university. In this regard, the Galway, Sligo and Letterkenny Institutes of Technology are considering establishing a Connacht / Ulster University of Technology. I think it is important that those campaigning for a university in Derry engage directly with Simon Harris, Minister of Higher Education, and his department on the political issues surrounding the provision of higher education in the region. of the Northwest.
The educational, social and economic benefits of a comprehensive university in the North West, with its main campus located in Derry, are compelling. It would bring new energy and dynamism to the region. Education actors and communities in the Northwest should be involved in a process of extensive consultation in preparing a mission statement for the new university and on how it might reflect and meet the needs of the people and communities in the region.
I have already suggested that a new university for the Northwest region could be called John Hume Memorial University. The level of national and international respect and goodwill for John Hume and his accomplishments is enormous. The establishment of a university in his honor would garner wide support and significant public and private funding from Ireland, UK, EU, US and Irish diaspora and friends of the Ireland around the world. A university named after John Hume would attract academics and students from all over the world.
Reflecting John ‘Hume’s staunch commitment to non-violence and the pursuit of peace, an Institute for Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies should be a major component of the new university. Over time, such an institute, I believe, would make an important contribution to finding solutions to complex political conflicts around the world.
The new university could also have an Ulster / Scottish School of Studies reflecting over two thousand years of history interwoven between Scotland and Ulster. We could call it the Colmcille / Columba school.
The very strong literary, musical and cultural traditions of the Northwest should be represented in a school of literature and art at the university and it could be called the Seamus Heaney School.
A new university should also have strong engineering and business departments focused on new green energy and sustainable economic development. Derry is uniquely positioned to be a leader in renewable energy technologies, particularly in the marine field.
The promoters of a new regional university in the North West should have big ambitions. A new university should not be seen only in a regional context. It must be open to the world. It should have the ambition to be a university attracting staff and students from a wide range of countries and all continents. From the start, it should focus on building strong academic links with universities in the United States, Europe, Britain and Ireland. Africa, South America and Asia should be included in a local development strategy.
Urban regions are the engines of social and economic development all over the world. A hundred years ago, Ireland and Ulster were arbitrarily divided, on the basis of sectarian membership. Derry City has been unfairly cut off from part of its natural hinterland in Donegal and Sligo. Its potential has never been fully exploited.
A new regional university for the North West with its main campus located in Derry would be a dynamic agent of positive change regionally, nationally and internationally. We are all living in a time of great uncertainty. A new university for the Northwest in my opinion would provide the leadership skills necessary to meet the challenges ahead.
Colm Burke is Fine Gael TD for Cork North-Central and Party spokesperson for Health.