Joe Biden’s opening of Ulster University is hugely symbolic, says the university’s student union president.
As part of his visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, President Biden will give a key address at Ulster University’s new Belfast campus.
An OECD assessment estimates the regeneration of the Belfast campus of the university will benefit the NI economy by £1.4 billion.
Grace Boyle is the president of the Ulster University Students’ Union and said President Biden’s choice to visit Ulster University was symbolic.
“This is the first time that President Joe Biden has been to the Island of Ireland and Northern Ireland since he has taken up office as president and this is hugely symbolic 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.
She added: “I think it’s a time of reflection.
“Opening the new Belfast campus to 15,000 students just shows you the impact of the new campus, bringing thousands of students into Belfast city centre, bringing them into local businesses and supporting a newer, brighter future for Northern Ireland.”
Some students have been critical of US political figures’ involvement with their schools, as seen with protests at Queen’s University’s decision to appoint former secretary of state Hillary Clinton as chancellor in January 2020.
Ms Boyle said Ulster University students have diverse opinions on the visit, and are aware of issues that still need to be addressed.
“Our students are a diverse population and there will be different opinions on every issue,” she said.
She added: “Our students play a huge role in the prosperity of Northern Ireland and to be very clear that this week’s visit is about the progress that we’ve made as a society in signing the Good Friday Agreement and that’s what we should be focusing on.
“There are things that we still need to address.
“We are in a cost-of-living crisis, there is a brain drain and a lot of young people still feel that they have no other option but to leave so there’s still work to be done, but I think what we need to bring it back to is that young people want to create a society that’s thriving and the building in Belfast campus is that.”
Ms Boyle said that President Biden’s visit demonstrated the possibility of a better future for the ceasefire generation.
“When President Biden took office, he defined America in one word, and that’s ‘possibilities’ and that’s what we hope and strive for, in Northern Ireland society, 25 years on,” she said.
“And that’s what I think his visit demonstrates, is that possibility of bringing a better future for not only students but for everyone in Northern Ireland for this generation.
“A lot of our students would have been born after the Good Friday Agreement and don’t have living memory of what it was like before.
“I think that’s what a lot of students want to see, is that vision for possibilities and for a better future.”
Jodie O’Reilly, a final year law student at Ulster University, said the president’s visit was a sign of progress for the University.
“I think it shows a lot about how far Ulster has come as a university that the president of the United States is coming to open it,” she said.
Ms O’Reilly also said that the visit was a chance for students and other young people to reflect on how things have changed here since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
“We have so many amazing opportunities that would never have been a thing for our parents,” she said.
“When they were voting for peace 25 years ago for a lot of them it was, if peace didn’t come they’d leave, whereas we get to stay and not only that but all these massive global firms are now creating jobs in Northern Ireland that we can stay in Northern Ireland and take advantage of.”