The failure to establish a university in Derry has been described as a “sectarian scandal” by Labour peer Andrew Adonis, who has raised the matter in the House of Lords.
Adonis - a former adviser to Tony Blair when he was British Prime Minister - said Derry is the only place of its prominence that doesn’t have a higher education institution with its main campus in the city.
A decision 50 years ago by the unionist regime in the North to locate a second ‘Ulster University’ in Coleraine, rather than Derry, has long been seen as an attempt to deprive the nationalist community west of the Bann with access to higher education. Although this is still denied by some unionists, it has strong parallels in the area of public transport and other government services.
A sub-campus of the university in Derry has failed to receive essential funding and support, and has seen its numbers decline in recent years.
“It is high time that the young people of Northern Ireland are given the chance to pursue higher education in this great city,” Mr Adonis said.
He said Derry continues to lose out because of the historical decision to base the headquarters of Ulster University in Coleraine following the Lockwood Report in the 1960s, “particularly since this was made in the context of deep sectarianism that the young people of northern Ireland do not recognise today and should not continue to suffer from.”
Garbhan Downey from the Derry University lobby group welcomed Adonis’s intervention, describing it as “highly significant”.
He said: “We met with the Labour Party here in Derry three weeks ago and they were very engaged and were keen to help Derry establish its own independent university. They understood the levels of alienation that the city had felt and the historic inequity and they went back and asked questions about this in Parliament, which was great.
“But this move by Lord Adonis is highly significant because I don’t think this has been raised in such a forum before. I think an independent university for Derry is the only realistic option to providing higher education. Magee expansion under Ulster University has completely failed and it is now impossible because they showed us.”
He said that at the time of the Good Friday Agreement “there was hope for the expansion of Magee but instead all the money went to Belfast” and the multimillion-pound development of a new campus there, while “Derry’s case was completely ignored”.
He added: “I don’t think Stormont has ever delivered for Derry”.