On the third day of the Winter Graduation ceremonies in Jordanstown, Professor Richard Barnett told graduates from the Faculties of Computing and Engineering and Life and Health Sciences how he had found a recent visit to a shared education project involving two primary schools on the North Coast 'inspirational'.
Professor Barnett said the visit to the Creative Change project, which brings together pupils from Ballysally Primary School in Coleraine and St Colum's Primary School in Portstewart to work on creative projects, hadgiven fresh impetus to the University’s mission of social inclusion.
The Vice-Chancellor said: "When I visited the school at Ballysally, pupils from both schools were working together; learning together; and presenting their work together.
"They were supervised by enthusiastic staff and watched by proud parents."
But he noted:"As their school education progresses, the pupils are more likely to learn apart, rather than together.
"Whatever system of school education emerges, it must include a substantial element of shared education."
Professor Barnett told graduates that if history wasn't to repeat itself, the pupils of primary schools like Ballysally must also be encouraged to progress to higher education.
"If I’d gone to a school in a different part of the town, only a handful will not eventually progress to higher education," he observed.
"That cannot be right. In fact, it is downright wrong.
“Those pupils from Ballysally and St Colum’s inspired me to make sure that this University continues to do everything that we can to continue to widen access to higher education.
“We are already a leading University in this regard. But we must, and we will, continue to work with schools to raise the aspirations of both pupils and parents.
"And we’ll continue to explore ways in which ability, rather than the family background, is the principal determinant for entry to higher education.
“The events of the past two weeks make it even more important that we continue this essential part of our work.
"At this time of year we’re all searching for ideas for gifts.The gift that this University can give to pupils such as those at Ballysally Primary School is the opportunity to progress to higher education and to share in the knowledge-based future.And it is a gift that we’re determined to give."
Concluding his remarks to the new graduates, the Vice-Chancellor called on them to focus themselves on excellence, citing the example of the University's Chancellor, Dr James Nesbitt:
“Our Chancellor once sought to conform. On leaving school he went on to study French – at the University of Ulster as it happens. But that was not where his passion lay.
“He left during his first year to pursue his passion and went to drama school. No doubt he would have been a good French teacher. But he is an excellent actor. You too have the potential to be excellent. So follow your passion and do so with determination.”
The Creative Change project is funded by the International Fund for Ireland’s Sharing in Education programme.
About the International Fund for Ireland
The International Fund for Ireland is an independent, international organisation established by the Irish and British Governments in 1986. The Fund’s main objectives are to promote economic and social advance and encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between Unionists and Nationalists throughout Ireland.
About the Sharing in Education Programme
Funded by the International Fund for Ireland and managed by the Department of Education, the Sharing in Education Programme seeks to break down the barriers from our historic conflict by providing a range of opportunities for young people to learn and work together. By supporting a variety of strategic projects that enable young people to participate in shared educational experiences, the Programme helps to facilitate reconciliation for a shared future.