Probus Club learns about the ‘new university’

Coleraine Probus Club President Des Moore greets Ken Ward, with club member John Tan (L) and club Treasurer Nigel Semple (R). Ken spoke to members about '50 Years of The New University of Ulster'.
Coleraine Probus Club President Des Moore greets Ken Ward, with club member John Tan (L) and club Treasurer Nigel Semple (R). Ken spoke to members about '50 Years of The New University of Ulster'.

Probus President, Des Moore bid a welcome return to the speaker at the club’s recent meeting, when Ken Ward came along to talk about “50 Years of The New University of Ulster”.

Ken recounted that in October 1967 he was summoned to Coleraine for an interview.

He travelled from Durham to Liverpool then to Belfast and on to Coleraine by train. Arriving at the site of the NUU he was surprised to find a bare hillside of 300 acres with the only a visible structure, known as the Cavehill Building. Being successful in his interview, Ken was now to be a lecturer in History at this new university, on a site that for the next six years would remain as an active building site.

Two of the main criteria for the new university were that there must be room for expansion and cheap student accommodation be readily available. Ease of access to the location was another essential factor. Bids were received from Craigavon; Armagh; Derry City as well as

Coleraine, for this third level education project. In the end it could be argued that it was the land ladies of Portrush and Portstewart that clinched the deal for Coleraine, although a committee of local business men chaired by John Moore must also be credited for actually studying the criteria and putting forward a comprehensive bid.

William Ewing, the first Registrar at the new Uni, had a clear vision of what he wanted and it was John Moore and his committee that provided the “Advance Factory” for third level education that Ewing was to develop. Ken, with his customary humour, gave an outline of life and study at the NUU, where the hub of activity was the entrance lounge.

It was a university with its own bank (rugby legend Willie John McBride was a clerk there) and its own railway station. A University where the Film Society was the major cultural area; where both teaching staff and students shared all the (limited) facilities, and this mix was supplemented with a liberal sprinkling of real ‘characters’.

For ten years Alan Burgess was Vice Chancellor and his wife was influential in the development of the Riverside Theatre which was opened by the Queen in 1977. In the early eighties universities changed. After an adventurous and innovative start, the New University in Coleraine was forced to amalgamate with the other campuses at Jordanstown, Belfast and Magee. The unique identity of the NUU was lost with this merger in 1984, ironically, the same year that its founding and visionary Registrar died.

For the future, Ken predicted that Coleraine will have to adapt as it sadly becomes another ‘federal campus’ with the ‘Ulster University’

headquarters in Belfast.