Derry lobby group U4D is calling for the substantial expansion of the University of Ulster’s Magee campus.
The group says such a move would bring Northern Ireland’s higher education provision up to levels achieved in the rest of the UK.
Its call coincides with the publication of its new report which underscores the pressing need to expand university provision across the North.
The U4D report details the damage to productivity, economic output and employment opportunities because Northern Ireland has the smallest university sector of any part of the UK.
Padraig Canavan, chair of U4D, says: “This report reveals that Northern Ireland requires an additional 15,400 places at its universities just to match the levels of university provision in England.
“That provision in England is increasing by 30,000 places this year, precisely because the UK Government realises the connection between the skills generated by university education and the long-term health of an economy.
“We urge MLAs of all parties to read this report and to recognise that Northern Ireland needs to copy England, Scotland and Wales in providing the raw materials for the modern economy - skills.
“It is only by increasing the skill base of the labour market in Derry-Londonderry and the wider North West that we will combat our unacceptably high rate of unemployment. Only the substantial expansion of university provision will turn our economy round.”
Key points in the report are:
* Northern Ireland produces the highest proportion of school leavers going to university of any of the UK’s four nations.
* Northern Ireland has the smallest university sector of any of the UK’s four nations.
* Northern Ireland’s increased rate of school leavers going to university has only been achieved by a growing proportion of them doing so in Britain.
* The loss of Northern Ireland students to Britain is seriously damaging to our productivity, wealth generation and ability to grow our own businesses and to attract inward investment.
The report also reveals that Northern Ireland’s two universities have a combined income of almost £500 million and generate an additional £675 million in economic activity.
“By extrapolation, the opportunity presented by bringing NI HE provision to a par with the UK average can be measured in hundreds of millions of additional income and economic activity - which would far outstrip the cost to government,” it concludes.