A British government report has indicated that as yet “no application” been received to establish an independent university in Derry but has outlined how it can be achieved.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, has published reports on progress towards forming an Executive and other matters, in accordance with his obligations under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.
One of those reports focused on Higher Education in NI and the prospect of an independent university in Derry.
The report states that Northern Ireland benefits from two outstanding universities in Queen’s and Ulster University.
While the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy (DfE) has policy responsibility for higher education in Northern Ireland, universities are independent of government.
“As such, it is for a university, whether prospective or existing, to decide where to base ​any new campus.
“It should be noted that no application has been made from any organisation to establish a university in Derry,” the report said.
In July, an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill was moved by Lord Andrew Adonis, a British Labour Party politician, that it “must include a report on the improvement of higher education provision in Northern Ireland and the establishment of a university whose principal campus is in Derry.”
The amendment was agreed in the House of Lords, a decision Lord Adonis described as “good news for young people in Derry and the whole province.”
However, the report states: “The DfE has not undertaken any exploratory work in relation to the establishment of a new university in Derry, as it has no locus to do so.”
It did set out a route that any prospective university must take and noted that an institution has to operate to a certain standard for a period of five years before it can award degrees.
Educational institutions requesting the right to use the ‘university’ title in Northern Ireland, which is an otherwise protected term under the Companies Act 2006, should apply directly to DfE, it said.
“The awarding of ‘university’ title can only be done via a Royal Charter or through primary legislation (through the NI Assembly). In either scenario, DfE will seek advice from the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).
“Degree Awarding Powers can only be granted by Royal Charter or Act of Parliament (including by the NI Assembly). Applications for a Royal Charter should be made to the Privy Council.
“It should be noted that before an application for Degree Awarding Powers is made, the institution must be able to demonstrate a track record of at least 5 years of delivering eligible courses satisfactorily (as assessed by the QAA).
“Additionally, the institution must be operating physically in Northern Ireland. Applicants should, in the first instance, approach the QAA for advice and guidance. In assessing applications for either of the above, DfE may seek the views of the Office for Students (OfS) in addition to the advice received from the QAA.”

Photo: Labour peer, Lord Andrew Adonis, making the case for an independent university for Derry at Westminster.

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