Doubts have been expressed over whether those behind the decision to axe the psychology department at Magee are acting in accordance with the ‘reality principle’ with one MLA claiming it “is doing so well, returning revenues of half a million pounds last year.”
Last month the University of Ulster confirmed it was consolidating its psychology provision at a central School of Psychology at Coleraine due to an £8.6m cut in funding from the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).
But SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey, a member of the Universities Committee at Stormont, wondered whether the powers that be who had to impose the cut may now be suffering from cognitive dissonance as a result of what he described as an unjustifiable move.
“It does concern me that the psychology department at Magee is literally closing down, affecting 800 students and outstanding research on mental health and suicide; work which we feel is invaluable in the present climate.
“It is doing so well, returning revenues of half a million pounds last year. You wonder how that evaluation can take place in circumstances where, on the one hand, you intimated that the numbers attending the language schools were not great but where, on the other hand, the numbers for psychology are so good that they cannot cope with the number of applicants coming through.
“Who does the evaluation to say that something is a good idea or a bad idea? Who says, ‘I am sorry, but you need to hold on here; I think that you should look at this again?’”
The Universities Minister Dr Stephen Farry replied: “Let me answer that by making three points to you, Pat. First, all things being equal, I will be here advocating that we see an expansion of the university sector, both in research and students, including in the North West.
“That is a given. The issue is one, therefore, of how we manage a situation that no one wants to be in, where we are seeing cutbacks having to be forced on to the universities.”
Dr Farry added: “The issue really goes back to the Chair’s question at the start. We are the Department for Employment and Learning; we are not a university.
“If we were to basically make direction as to where cuts are made or where investments are made in universities, we would be turning ourselves into a university.
“It is important that, as part of a pluralist society, we give scope for academics to make those decisions on how they run a major third-level institution. They do not sit around operating in a vacuum.”