Labour peer Andrew Adonis has branded the lack of a stand-alone Derry university a major human rights issue in a scathing indictment of third level education policy.
Speaking in the British House of Lords he said that if devolution was not restored London should move ‘concrete proposals’ to deliver a medical school at Magee and a dedicated university for Derry.
“The big debate about higher education provision in Derry goes back 60 years. However, far from getting better, the situation is getting worse. Commitments given in the last 10 years have not been met. The number of places available to students in Derry at the Magee campus of Ulster University is pitifully small.
“There are only 3,429 - barely more than were available 10 years ago,” he said.
He said the delay in the delivery of a medical school was totally unacceptable.
“The medical school...is not proceeding. What now needs to be done to give it the consent required to make it possible for people to undergo medical training in Derry, which does not happen at present?" Adonis asked his fellow peers.
He claimed the failure to adequately increase student numbers in Derry was a ‘human rights’ issue.
“Given the enormous damage being done to the life chances of young people in NI, particularly in the city of Derry, I consider this situation as big an infringement of human rights as the issues relating to abortion and same-sex marriage about which we legislated last year.
"I do not believe it is satisfactory for Parliament, which is responsible for safeguarding the human rights of the people of NI, to allow it to continue,” he said.
Willie Hay, now Lord Hay of Ballyore, said Adonis had met nearly every political party in Derry but had not discussed the issue with the DUP in the city.
However, he acknowledged: “He is right: this issue goes back well over 50 or 60 years. There is a long drawn-out debate about whether the university should have been in the city or in Coleraine.
“Coleraine got the university; the city did not. But it would be wrong to say that the city does not have a university. The city of Londonderry does have a university. All right, there is a cap on the students that can go there, but for any viable university there is a huge economic off-spin for the city.”
Ian Duncan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), or Lord Duncan, said: “The issue at the heart of this is a decision taken by the Executive to cap the number of students.
"By doing so, they created a problem for provision in NI, which is one of the principal reasons why so many students from NI end up being educated in the rest of the UK.
"That decision needs to be addressed. I have looked with some care at Ulster University’s proposal for the Magee campus for the graduate school of medicine.
“To coin a phrase, I believe that it is oven-ready, and I believe that it could be moved forward in short order.
“However, it needs an Executive, or other powers, to move it forward. Again, I believe in endorsing the view that that is the only way to ensure the indigenous retention of medical practitioners; indeed, I will look at other academic disciplines as well.”