Significant expansion of university education in Derry and Letterkenny is vital to overcoming the North West’s chronic and historic economic problems, a leading economist warned.
John Daly, chief economist at the North and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA), made his comments in a presentation to the Royal Irish Academy and the John and Pat Hume Foundation. Mr Daly spoke at a consultation about “strengthening the impact of higher education in the North West”.
The NWRA is one of three regional assemblies in the Republic that works with key stakeholders at EU, national, regional and local levels to optimize regional development.
The question of a university for Derry has been a major political issue for the city for over 50 years. The decision by Stormont’s unionist government to locate the new University of Ulster in Coleraine rather than Derry was a major catalyst in the civil rights campaign. The issue was one of the platforms from which the career of the late John Hume took shape.
The campaign for university education for Derry, a young John Hume (pictured with Derry’s Ulster Unionist mayor Albert Anderson and Nationalist Party leader Eddie McAteer), has been an issue in the city for over fifty years. Image by Northern Ireland Screen digital film archive.
In his presentation, Mr Daly focused on the North West City Region which includes the borough of Derry and Strabane with Letterkenny and Co Donegal. He highlighted a number of key performance indicators in the areas of education, welfare and employment.
In education, Mr Daly told the consultation, about one in three people in Derry and Strabane (28.4%) have no formal education or only primary education. The figure for Letterkenny and County Donegal was one in five (29.9%). However, this was expected to be on par with the Derry statistic when more recent census figures for the Republic are published.
The figures also showed that the North West City Region consistently had the lowest disposable income on the entire island of Ireland, well below the national averages north and south of the border. Unemployment rates were also among the highest in Ireland, with Derry City and Strabane recording a rate of 3.1% and Donegal – at 18% – being beaten in the Republic only by Longford.
The NWRA economist told The Irish News that the North West region – fourth most populous on the island of Ireland – performed significantly worse in terms of higher or university education. He pointed out that Derry had 3,495 people enrolled full-time in university education in the 2021/2022 period, although this figure was expected to be closer to 5,000 in the current year.
“However, Derry City has a population of over 108,000 people and if you look at Limerick with a population of 94,000, there are 24,000 students enrolled full time in higher education and in Galway there are 22,761 while the population of Galway is 79,934. Both Galway and Limerick have large university campuses,” said Daly.
The NWRA economist said higher education development at UU’s Magee campus and Atlantic Technological University’s (ATU) new Letterkenny campus was critical to lifting the Northwest metropolitan region out of the deprivation and poverty it has been in. has languished for so long.
“It is imperative that policymakers and higher education providers work together to expand full-time higher education. In the long term, the footprint of higher education in the city of Derry should be equal to or greater than that of Galway or Limerick,’ he said.
Mr Daly said development in Belfast, Dublin and other city regions was aimed at a “knowledge economy” and if the Derry city region was to have any hope of growth a comparable economy was important.
“Specialized higher education and research at Magee and ATU should focus on areas such as ICT, digital services, gaming, renewable energy, life sciences and healthcare, financial services and creative industries, and tourism.
“In this way we can maximize a stronger region. If we can’t steer the Northwest’s economy, it will continue to suffer,” Daly said.