UNIVERSITIES Minister Dr Stephen Farry claims perceptions local third level institutions are unwelcoming to Unionist students are unfounded.
Dr Farry claimed that “previously held perceptions of a perceived ‘chill factor’ within our higher education institutions have been determined to be unfounded.”
The Minister was responding to an Assembly Question tabled by the North Down DUP MLA Gordon Dunne who asked him how he planned to address “concerns among unionist students who feel that local universities are unwelcoming to them.”
It is an issue that has been raised in the past by Mr Dunne’s party colleague, the East Londonderry MLA Gregory Campbell, who in 2011 said that whilst there had been an improvement the fact that in the early to mid 2000s Protestant enrolment at Magee college in Londonderry was just 10 per cent, was “absolutely appalling.”
Statistics show that by 2007, however, one in five students attending the Londonderry campus were Protestant.
During a debate on the issue at Stormont in 2011, Magee graduate and Ulster Unionist Party MLA Sandra Overend, said: “Having attended the University of Ulster at Magee College in Londonderry, where only one fifth of students came from a Protestant background, I believe passionately, as does my party, that religion should not be a factor in deciding where to attend university.”
And in the past Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) MLA Jim Allister blamed Sinn Féin activists using tricolours at stalls during freshers’ week. He said this “had created a distinct chill factor for non-republican students.” But Dr Stephen Farry says recent research shows there is no “chill factor.”
“The research evidence presented on participation in Higher Education indicates that there were very few negative perceptions of Northern Ireland institutions among students.
“In fact, most respondents reported that Northern Ireland institutions were very welcoming to all groups in terms of religion,
disability, ethnicity and socio-economic status. My Department does not monitor political affiliations. I am delighted that our Universities and Further Education Colleges offer a genuine option for integrated education.”