Civil rights lawyers yesterday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals here to overturn the Reagan administration's settlement of the University of North Carolina system desegregation case.

Veteran civil rights lawyer Joseph L. Rauh said the settlement, approved by a U.S. District Court judge in North Carolina, was the product of "collusive" action by the U.S. Department of Education and university officials, and an "obvious attempt to end-run this court" and its prior orders to desegregate the schools.

"If North Carolina can get away with this end run," Rauh said in a hearing yesterday, "the desegregation process started in this circuit is dead."

Civil rights advocates harshly criticized the settlement shortly after it was announced in June, 1981, by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell. Critics said that the Reagan administration accepted a desegregation plan that had been rejected as inadequate by prior administrations and that the move was a retreat from enforcement of desegregation in higher education.

The settlement required the state to add programs at its five largely black colleges, but it did not require the dismantling of duplicate programs at its 11 largely white schools, as federal officials had demanded previously.

Michael Singer, a Justice Department lawyer appearing for Bell, said that anyone opposing the settlement could have done so in North Carolina.