Ulster University

Ulster University (Irish: Ollscoil Uladh,[6][7][8] Ulster Scots: Ulstèr Universitie[9] or Ulstèr Varsitie),[10] legally the University of Ulster,[11] is a multi-campus public university located in Northern Ireland. It is often referred to informally and unofficially as Ulster, or by the abbreviation UU.[12][13][14] It is the largest university in Northern Ireland and the second-largest university on the island of Ireland, after the federal National University of Ireland.

Ulster University
Irish: Ollscoil Uladh
Scots: Ulstèr Universitie
Ulster University's coat of arms
TypePublic research university
Established 1865 – Magee College
1953 - Magee University
1969 – New University of Ulster
1982 – University of Ulster
2014 – Ulster University
Endowment£14.365 million (2018)[1]
Budget£185 million[2]
ChancellorJames Nesbitt[3]
Vice-ChancellorPaddy Nixon
Academic staff
Students24,640 (2016/17)[5]
Undergraduates19,160 (2016/17)[5]
Postgraduates5,480 (2016/17)[5]
CampusVaried (Urban/ Rural)
ColoursLogo:Navy blue & Bronze
Seal:Red & Gold

Established in 1968 as the New University of Ulster, it merged with Ulster Polytechnic in 1984, incorporating its four Northern Irish campuses under the University of Ulster banner. The university incorporated its four campuses in 1984; located in Belfast, Coleraine, Magee College in Derry, and Jordanstown. The university has branch campuses in both London and Birmingham, and an extensive distance learning provision. The university rebranded as Ulster University from October 2014 and this included a revised visual identity.

It has one of the highest further study and employment rates in the UK, with over 92% of graduates being in work or further study six months after graduation.[15] The university is a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities,[16] the European University Association, Universities Ireland and Universities UK.


The New University of Ulster (NUU) incorporated Magee College founded in 1865 in Derry. Magee College was a college of the Royal University of Ireland from 1880 and later became associated with the University of Dublin (better known as Trinity College) when the Royal University was dissolved in 1908 and replaced by the National University of Ireland. In 1953 Magee College broke its links with Dublin and became Magee University College. NUU was instigated as part of Her Majesty's Government's expansion of higher education in the 1960s. In 1963, the Robbins Committee recommended a substantial expansion of higher education in Great Britain,[17] partly triggered by the Anderson Report of 1960, which increased consumer demand by instigating a grants scheme. In the same year, a committee of eight chaired by Sir John Lockwood, Master of Birkbeck College, London, was appointed to review facilities for university and higher technical education in Northern Ireland. It adopted the aims and principles of Robbins, but aimed to take account of the different economic, social and educational structure of Northern Ireland.

It was hoped by groups led by the University for Londonderry Committee that Magee would become Northern Ireland's second university after The Queen's University of Belfast. However, this did not happen and instead it was subsumed into the New University, primarily as a result of the unwillingness of the Unionist government at Stormont to have the second university sited in overwhelmingly nationalist Derry, in which "The Troubles" were just beginning to break out. The decision caused an outcry at the time.[18]

However, in a history of the University of Ulster[19] it is pointed out that the submission of Magee University College to the Lockwood Committee was far from satisfactory. Its claims to preferment were historically based, and the Committee felt that those claims could become a source of embarrassment, perhaps undermining the credibility of a future new university with a diverse intake.[20] The Magee submission failed to take sufficient account of the 'locations' criteria of the University Grant Committee; its proposals for student accommodation consisted of a "mishmash of private lodgings and hostels",[21] whereas the Coleraine Promotion Committee referred directly to the given criteria, and stated its arguments on a targeted point-by-point basis. Magee University College itself failed to impress members of the Lockwood Committee during their visit. It manifested an administrative structure that was "eccentric, unique …, and barely workable" (ibid.). The atmosphere was one of "complacency", "lack of dynamism" and it failed to articulate "any clear ideas about how the College should develop or what shape any future university in Londonderry should take".[22] The Committee noted Magee's "cramped physical situation" and "circumscribed mental outlook",[23] and turned instead to the Coleraine proposal. It did not even deem Magee worthy of being included as a constituent college in the proposed new institution,[24] though subsequently a role was found for it.

Following a review of higher education in Northern Ireland under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Chilver in 1982 the direct-rule government decided to merge NUU with the Ulster Polytechnic to form the University of Ulster (dropping "New" from the name.) The merger took effect on 1 October 1984. Whilst the university was established in 1968 it can trace its roots back to 1845 when Magee College was endowed in Derry, and 1849, when the School of Art and Design was inaugurated in Belfast.

Campus One, the Virtual Campus of the university, was launched on 8 October 2001 which successfully facilitated the provision on undergraduate and postgraduate level courses via distance learning.[25] The university now simply refers to this as distance learning.

The university formerly had a laboratory named 'The University of Ulster Freshwater Laboratory' at Traad Point on the shore of Lough Neagh in Ballymaguigan. The Freshwater Laboratory, although not a campus, was a site of the university and consisted of on-campus accommodation, classrooms and testing labs. Courses offered were in agriculture, the wildlife of Lough Neagh, water testing and other aquatic courses. The site is now owned by Magherafelt District Council. By 2010, the area had become popular with the locals for camping, fishing and sailing.

In autumn 2011 Vice-Chancellor Barnett announced a programme of financial restructuring with the aim of reducing the number of staff employed by the University from 3,150 to 3,000.[26] Staff at the University expressed concern about the proposed means and impact of the restructuring, citing "the use of the threat of compulsory redundancy to bully and intimidate staff" and the belief that the University was "abdicating its responsibilities to the wider community that funds it".[27]

In April 2012, the Ulster University branch of the University and College Union (UCU) declared a formal dispute with university management over its implementation of the restructuring, stating that the recourse to "premature deadlines and unwarranted threats of compulsory redundancy" was "unreasonable as well as contrary to University policy and corporate goals".[28]

The reasons for cuts are not, however, unique to Ulster University. First of all, there was the Great Recession that began in 2008 and engendered a change in government and a sharp reduction in public spending. Secondly, there were issues pertaining to tuition fees. As a result of political devolution in the United Kingdom (mandated from 1998 onwards), fees differ in the four countries that make up the union. For undergraduate tuition they are currently £9,250 in England but only £4,030 in Northern Ireland. For a while, the low fees in Northern Ireland were hailed as a triumph for devolution and seemed a tool to facilitate access for less advantaged students. Universities in Northern Ireland fared reasonably well financially. However, as Pritchard and Slowey[29] point out, if the government does not make up the shortfall, low fees left Northern Ireland universities at a disadvantage compared to their English counterparts. In 2015, the government reduced the funding allocation for Higher Education Institutions by 8.2%. Both Northern Ireland universities had to make cuts. Queen’s University announced immediate job cuts of 236 and student number reductions of ca. 290 (1,010 over the next three years).[30] Ulster also announced its intention of cutting over 200 jobs and 250 student places in 2015/16 (1,200 over the following three years).


Ulster University is Northern Ireland's regional university with four campuses situated in Northern Ireland in Belfast, Coleraine, Derry (Magee College) and Jordanstown. Additionally, two further branch campuses in both London and Birmingham in England deliver courses.

An online distance learning provision also offers Ulster University courses globally. The University was among the first Universities to offer degree level programs through its, previous "Campus One" program and was a pioneer in the introduction of online degree level courses in Biomedical Sciences.[25][31][32] The university was subsequently selected by the European Commission to deliver the world's first Higher Educational Programme in Hydrogen Safety Engineering.[33]


The Belfast campus is situated in the artistic and cultural centre of the city; the Cathedral Quarter. Although traditionally associated with Art and home to the university's School of Art, originally inaugurated as the Belfast School of Art and Design in 1849, the campus has a range of subjects including architecture, hospitality, event management, photography and digital animation. The award-winning Law Clinic is based at the Belfast campus, offering free legal advice on social security and employment law.

Ulster University has been expanding and developing the Belfast campus since 2009 as part of one of Northern Ireland's largest-ever urban developments, and nearly 15,000 students and staff will soon be based in the city centre. The first phase of this development opened in 2015 and completion of the project is due in 2019.


The Coleraine campus is situated on the banks of the River Bann with views to the North Coast and County Donegal hills. Subjects taught at Coleraine include biomedical sciences, environmental science and geography, pharmacy, psychology, the humanities, film and journalism, travel and tourism as well as teacher training. The Coleraine campus hosts the only optometry school in Northern Ireland and is home to the Riverside Theatre, the third-largest professional theatre in Northern Ireland.

A major and consequential development at Coleraine was the introduction of the degree programme in biomedical sciences in 1980.[34] This subject area grew into a leading UK centre in teaching and research, being ranked first in the UK in three successive Research Assessment Exercises (1996, 2001 and 2008). It also spawned the development of related subject areas including human nutrition, radiography, clinical science, optometry, podiatry, pharmacy, pharmacology and stratified medicine.[35][36] In 2002 the University was awarded £14.5 million under the Support Programme for University Research (SPUR) to establish the Centre for Molecular Biosciences at Coleraine.[37]

The campus now hosts a number of courses which were previously held at the Portrush site which was part of the Coleraine Campus and home to the School of Hotel, Leisure and Tourism. The site closed in 2008 and courses were relocated to the Coleraine and the newly developed Belfast campuses.

In 2009 the university launched a new Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) course at Coleraine, becoming the top UK university for pharmacy and pharmacology in 2014 and maintaining that position in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

In July 2011, in cooperation with Zhejiang University of Media and Communications (ZUMC), 'The Confucius Institute at Ulster University' (CIUU) was developed. The Confucius Institute is part of a network of 322 institutes in over 50 countries which promote and teach Chinese language and culture and facilitate cultural exchanges aimed at fostering trade links with China.[38]

In Spring 2015, a new £5.1 million teaching block was completed at the Coleraine Campus providing an active learning environment and allowing for more flexible and technology-led learning styles.

In Summer 2015, the new Faculty of Arts building was opened following a £6.75million investment which is home to a vast digital media archive, state-of-the-art media facilities, including radio and television studios, and a postgraduate research centre as well as office and administration accommodation.


The Jordanstown campus, often informally referred to as UUJ, was formerly the site of the Ulster College of Physical Education, one of several Colleges which came together in the formation of the Ulster Polytechnic, and is the largest university campus. The 114-acre (0.46 km2) site is located seven miles north of Belfast city centre situated at the foot of the Antrim Hills overlooking Belfast Lough. The buildings are mostly situated around a central mall with on-site stores and services. The campus has a strong profile in business, engineering, social sciences (including law), communication and academic disciplines relating to the science and coaching of sport. Sport plays a significant part in the life of the campus. It is home to the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland, a partnership between the University and Sport Northern Ireland, and most of Northern Ireland's elite athletes train in the impressive facilities. The campus is also the only university in Northern Ireland to offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses in various Allied Health Professions, such as Cardiac and Respiratory Clinical Physiology, Diagnostic and Therapeutic Radiography, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Podiatry and Speech and Language Therapy. The campus is also the only campus delivering courses in Biomedical Engineering within Northern Ireland.


The Magee campus in the city of Derry comprises a mixture of historic and new buildings in a Victorian residential area. It was named after Martha Magee and opened in 1865 as a Presbyterian Christian arts and theological college.[39] Since 1953, it has had no religious affiliation, and was one of the founding campuses of the university in 1968. Ongoing investment in the Magee campus provides teaching, research and support facilities for students and staff. This investment has delivered a student residential village offering en-suite accommodation, a library, the Intelligent Systems Research Centre, the Foyle Arts Building and a state of the art Centre for Engineering and Renewable Energy offering a wide range of Engineering courses.

In addition to the university's teaching and learning facilities, the campus has on-site residential, catering and sports facilities. Sports facilities include a multi-purpose sports hall, fitness suite and studio as well as a grass and floodlit synthetic 3G pitch with pavilion and changing facilities.

Branch Campuses

The university has a partnership with QA Higher Education, which operates two branch campuses in England: London and Birmingham. The London campus is in Holborn, and the Birmingham campus is in the Centre City Tower.[40][41] The campuses offer courses in business, finance and computing.[42]

Organisation and governance




The four faculties of Ulster University, are:

  • Arts Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment
  • Life and Health Sciences
  • Ulster University Business School

Academic profile

The university's course provision is the largest in Northern Ireland, covering arts, business, engineering, information technology, life and health sciences, management, and social sciences. Courses have a strong vocational element and the majority include a period of industrial or professional placement.


National rankings
Complete (2020)[44]58
Guardian (2020)[45]93
Times / Sunday Times (2020)[46]68
Global rankings
CWTS Leiden (2019)[47]419
QS (2020)[48]
THE (2020)[49]501-600

The university is ranked annually by the Complete University Guide, The Guardian, and jointly by The Times and The Sunday Times; this makes up the UK University League Table rankings. It was shortlisted for Sunday Times University of the Year in 2001.

The institution is a leading modern university ranked in the top 150 global institutions under 50 years of age in The Times Higher Education 150 Under 50 World University rankings.[50]

Ulster is in the top 20% in international outlook in 2016, registering as 401 - 500 in the THE World University Rankings.[51]

Ulster scores highly for student satisfaction with the 2018 National Student Survey unveiling 87% satisfaction rates—ranking 23rd out of 154 UK universities.[52]


The University embarked upon a policy of research selectivity in 1993 funded partially by Northern Ireland Development Funds (NIDevR) administered via the Northern Ireland Higher Education Council.[53] The policy resulted in greatly improved performance by the University in subsequent Research Assessment Exercises (1996, 2001 and 2008; 3 subject areas, biomedical sciences, nursing and celtic studies were ranked in the top 5 in the UK in the latter exercise) and in improving its publication output, external research funding and knowledge transfer activities.[54][55][56] The establishment in 2002-3 of a number of research institutes in areas of established strength and the receipt of over £40 million through the Support Programme for University Research (SPUR), funded jointly by Atlantic Philanthropies and the Northern Ireland Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), yielded a further significant enhancement in the University's research performance.[54]

The Research Excellence Framework 2014 exercise identified the institution as one of the top five universities in the UK for world-leading research in law, biomedical sciences, nursing and art and design. Under some metrics, it ranked the university top in Northern Ireland for research into biomedical sciences, law, business and management, architecture and built environment, art and design, social policy, sport, media studies and nursing.[57]

The Research Excellence Framework 2014 identified that 72% of the university's research activity was world leading or internationally excellent.[58] Additionally the REF evaluation identified the university as ranked:

  • In the top 10 UK-wide for built environment, biomedical sciences, law, art and design and nursing research
  • First in the UK for outstanding impact in law and joint first in the UK for outstanding and very considerable impact in education research
  • Second in the UK for Celtic studies research.

Research Institutes

There are 15 Research Institutes at the university. These are:

  • Arts & Humanities Research Institute (AHRI)
  • Biomedical Sciences Research Institute
  • Built Environment Research Institute
  • Business and Management Research Institute
  • Centre for Media Research
  • Computer Science Research Institute
  • Engineering Research Institute (ERI)
  • Environmental Sciences Research Institute
  • Institute of Nursing and Health Research
  • Institute for Research in Social Sciences
  • Irish and Celtic Studies Research Institute
  • Psychology Research Institute
  • Research Institute for Art and Design (RIAD)
  • Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute
  • Transitional Justice Institute

Noted academics and alumni

Ulster has a large body of notable alumni, including MPs Kate Hoey, Gregory Campbell, Michelle Gildernew, Roberta Blackman-Woods and former deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Mark Durkan, MLAs Alban Maginness, Basil McCrea and Seán Neeson, writers and authors including Anne Devlin, Dinah Jefferies, Colin Duriez, Calum Neill and Aodán Mac Póilin, poets including Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill, and artists including Colin Davidson, Oliver Jeffers, Victor Sloan, Andre Stitt, John Luke and John Kindness. Other alumni include composer Brian Irvine, musician David Lyttle, comedian Omid Djalili, former hostage and writer Brian Keenan, historian Simon Kitson, biomedical scientist and former Vice-Chancellor Gerry McKenna, filmmaker Brian Philip Davis, visual artist Willie Doherty, photographer Mary Fitzpatrick, film producer Michael Riley, rugby player Brian Robinson, radio and television personality Gerry Anderson, nursing academic Alison Kitson.

Notable current and former academics who have worked at Ulster include historian Antony Alcock, political scientist Monica McWilliams, poets Andrew Waterman and James Simmons, literary critic Walter Allen, physicist and subsequently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, Gareth Roberts, mathematician Ralph Henstock, solar energy technologist and President of Dublin Institute of Technology, Brian Norton, law professors Brice Dickson and Denis Moloney, Professor of Nursing Research Brendan George McCormack. Turner Prize-nominated video artist Willie Doherty, Official War Artist Paul Seawright and live artist Anne Seagrave.

Academics who were elected to membership of the Royal Irish Academy while based at Ulster include Bertie Ussher (Classics), Norman Gibson (Economics), Amyan Macfadyen (Biology), Bill Watts (Chemistry), Gerry McKenna (Biomedical Sciences, Genetics), Sean Strain (Biomedical Sciences, Nutrition), Marshall McCabe (Geology), Peter Flatt (Biomedical Sciences, Diabetes), Séamus MacMathúna (Celtic Studies), Robert Anthony Welch (Literature), Vani Borooah (Economics), Máréaid Nic Craith (Celtic Studies), Graham Gargett (French), Helene McNulty (Biomedical Sciences, Nutrition), Pól Ó Dochartaigh (German), Robert McBride (French), Ullrich Kockel (ethnography), John McCloskey (Geosciences), and Rosalind Pritchard (Education).

Recipients of honorary degrees include the former President of the United States Bill Clinton, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, football managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Brendan Rodgers, poet Seamus Heaney, writers Seamus Deane, Brian Friel, Frank McGuinness and Colm Tóibín, activists May Blood and Aung San Suu Kyi, actors Amanda Burton and Ewan McGregor, racehorse trainer Vincent O'Brien, bishops Seán Brady, Robin Eames, James Mehaffey, Edward Daly and Desmond Tutu, singers Enya, Van Morrison and Tommy Makem, politicians John Hume and Garret FitzGerald, politician, writer and historian Conor Cruise O'Brien, US lawyer John Connorton, US diplomat Jim Lyons, Gaelic footballer Peter Canavan, rugby player David Humphreys, golfers Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, former governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten and triple jumper Jonathan Edwards.[59]

See also


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  16. "ACU members". Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  17. ''The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal and the Search for Peace'' Tim Pat Coogan 2002 ISBN 978-0312294182 p50 ''et seq'' accessed 17 January 2013. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
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  19. O'Brien, G. Lockwood and After. In Roebuck and O'Brien, 2009: 34-35
  20. ibid.p.34
  21. Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, ED 39/3
  22. ibid.)
  23. ibid.p.35
  24. Access & Distributed Learning http://adl.ulster.ac.uk. "eLearning at the University of Ulster". Campusone.ulster.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 27 June 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
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  27. Fawcett, Lyn S.,"UCU Declaration of Dispute". Letter to Richard Barnett, 27 April 2012 Archived 2 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  28. PRITCHARD, R.M.O. and Slowey, M. (2017) “Resilience: a High Price for Survival? The Impact of Austerity on Irish Higher Education, South and North”, in Debating Austerity in Ireland: Crisis, Experience and Recovery, edited by Emma Heffernan, John McHale and Niamh Moore-Cherry, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, pp. 175-190.
  29. ibid.: 184
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  33. http://www.newulsterbiography.co.uk/index.php/home/printPerson/2114
  34. The Biomedical Scientist, July 2007
  35. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335392091_UU_BMS_25-40_Years_August_2019
  36. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/1795004.stm
  37. "About Confucius- Confucius Institute at the University of Ulster". Archived from the original on 17 July 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
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  53. University of Ulster: 7-Year Review, 1998-2005
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  55. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337707368_Dairy_Council_for_Northern_Ireland_Lecture_2019_30th_Anniversary_Symposium_'The_development_of_research_in_an_increasingly_competitive_environment_-_the_Ulster_example'_Professor_Gerry_McKenna_MRIA
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Online sources
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