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A History of Magee College
In 1845, Mrs Martha Magee endowed the College with her name and a substantial bequest to establish an institution in Ireland to prepare entrants for the Presbyterian ministry. The land was provided by the city of Londonderry. Twenty years later, Magee College opened the doors of the present elegant Gothic building (designed by the Dublin architect Gribben and built, on the expressed wish of the trustees, in Scottish freestone).
Growing with the City
At that time, Londonderry was a rapidly developing industrial centre, with a bustling port which took full advantage of the expansion of transatlantic traffic and the developing manufacture base concentrated in new factories along the River Foyle. Although the College's principal function at the time was to educate for the Presbyterian ministry, it was from the outset open to all denominations and had a substantial Faculty of Arts. A firm belief in the importance of extra-mural programmes was evident from the beginning and has since then seen the College acquire a pioneering reputation in the province for this important area of community education.
A Part of the University Scene
In 1880, new impetus was given to the educational provision at Magee College by its incorporation into the newly-formed Royal University of Ireland. Red brick professional houses houses which 100 years later were to accommodate the work of the growing faculties, were added progessively to the site. Student numbers grew and by the turn of the century Magee College was, in terms of its student population, half the size of the then Queen's College, Belfast and larger than the Colleges at Cork and Galway. However, at that time the Royal University was replaced by the National University of Ireland, a watershed in the history of Magee College, bringing to an end its first flourishing phase of development. The College failed to join either the new institution or The Queen's University, Belfast, which was formed in 1908. Instead, Magee College established a relationship with Magee students completed their third and fourth years of university at TCD and had conferred upon them degrees of Trinity College.
Funding it's Work
Magee had enjoyed a small government subsidy under the Royal University. This was not resumed until 1938 and full government grant aid was not given until 1953 when Magee University College was given a separate existence from the Theological College. For the first half century, Magee had depended almost entirely on private grants and bequests, principally from the Hon the Irish Society, which funded the early professorial establishment. Recurring financial problems constrained its academic provision and development, and its student population at times fell well below that of the nineteenth century. Full government funding in 1953 opened up the most fulfilling phase in the history of the College. The academic community more than doubled and the original six professorships were supplemented by a number of lecturing posts. The range of subjects available for study expanded and the growing student population included a number from Great Britian, Ireland and overseas.
By the early 1960s there were hopes that Magee would become the province's second University. The 1964 report of the Lockwood Committee on the state of higher education in Northern Ireland failed to satisfy these aspirations, recommending that the second university should be established at Coleraine and that Magee University College be closed. Opposition to this proposal led to a government decision that Magee should be incorporated into the New University of Ulster. Magee became the location for Continuing Education in the new institution.
1845 - Martha Magee leaves bequest to establish
institution for training of Presbyterian Ministry in Ireland.
Joining the University of Ulster
Although the period between then and the establishment of the University of Ulster saw much innovative work, particularly the very successful foundation course for mature students, the population of Magee College halved in size and became almost exclusively local in origin. The number of academic staff fell and some of the College's accommodation was loaned to other bodies. In 1983 it was decided to merge the New University of Ulster, including Magee College, with the Ulster Polytechnic. The founders of the new institution decided that the primary focus of initial development and expansion should be the Magee College campus and the story since than has been one of sustained growth and development. The University of Ulster is a four-campus institution with other sites at Coleraine (which houses the administrative headquarters), Jordanstown (the largest campus) and Belfast (which houses the Faculty of Art and Design). The University is one of the largest in the United Kingdom. Since 1984, with the initial support and approval of the Universities Grants Committee (and now the Universities Funding Council) and the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, over £8.5m has been allocated to fund the development of the buildings, grounds, resources and academic activities of Magee College. This has done much to repay the faith in Magee shown by the community in the North-West for over 150 years. The continuing fulfilment of that faith will be the next chapter in the history of Magee College.