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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 9. 1963.

Politics, Religion Split North Irish Varsities

page 4

Politics, Religion Split North Irish Varsities

Sharp political and religious differences within the student body are the most distinctive feature of University life in Northern Ireland. This cleavage is a reflection of the position in the community as a whole, where there has always been two opposing religio-political camps.

Almost automatically the protestants vote Unionist (the Union being Northern Ireland's constitutional link with the UK) and the Catholics vote Nationalist (the Nation being Irish and bitterly anti-British). As well as these two main groups, there are the University political science societies supporting the young and growing Labour Party, the Liberal Party, and in recent years the New Ireland society.

The students take a lively interest in politics, and various points of view are advanced, defended, and attacked with vigour. University graduates in Ireland have an extra vote, and they elect 4 out of 52 MPs in the Ulster House of Commons.

In a country which has suffered considerably because of mutual fear and hatred between the two "sides." many people look to the Queen's University of Belfast as the most likely starting place for eventual reconciliation.

By Robert Ramsay

Here, enlightened opinion, and a freer exchange of views leads to a more moderate and liberal approach to the country's internal problems. The damage caused by complete segregation at primary and secondary schools, and the teaching of fundamentally conflicting views of history is not easily rectified.

It is regrettably true, for instance, that block voting for SUS Presidency often takes place, the religion of the candidates often being a more important factor than their individual merits. But the general climate is gradually improving and more tolerance and co-operation is to be seen now than a generation ago. Protestants no longer shun, on principle. Gaelic activities, whether sporting or cultural, and the Irish Language circle is the biggest single club in the University. You will hear fewer complaints from Catholics that they are "down trodden in Protestant Ulster."

Apart from this unique, and for the visitor bewildering aspect of Ulster University life, the general pattern of Queen's and its satellite, Magee college in Londonderry, is the same as any other UK University. The curriculum tends to be more specialised than that in New Zealand, and part-time students are restricted to post-graduate Education diploma students and Economics students. The degree standards are in line with the rest of Britain, and are maintained by the system of external examiners.

Queen's has the usual expansion problem, and plans are afoot to establish another University at Armagh, rather than increase the student population to 6000. The general opinion is that much of the character would be lost if it became much larger.

The question of a reliable and reasonable bookshop, which was discussed in this paper recently, was in the limelight at Queen's a few years ago. The step taken was to encourage the establishment of a University Bookshop by outside business interests. The proprietor can still make a good profit, but, having staked his business on the University trade, is obliged to cater for all its book needs, and cannot concentrate on "paying lines." The management work in close association with individual lecturers, and the arrangement appears to be a success.

One difference between Victoria University and Queen's which has struck me as a visitor to Wellington, is the attitude of the general public to the University and its members.

The Belfast public is proud of its University and takes an active interest in its affairs. Last year's charities fund total of £7000 is indicative of public support and tolerance. I am sorry to say that the same happy relations do not exist in Wellington. I must add that this is a personal opinion based on only a few months experience.