It's D-day for Suffolk's university bid

EDUCATION chiefs will announce today whether it will fund a university in Suffolk.

EDUCATION chiefs will announce today whether it will fund a university in Suffolk.

The board of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will reveal whether it will give the go-ahead to the county's £15million bid for a University Campus Suffolk (UCS).

Yesterday it met in closed session at its HQ in Bristol to decide whether to pour the millions of pounds needed into the proposals.

On the agenda was the bid put forward in December by the UCS project team, jointly lead by the University of East Anglia and University of Essex.

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Ipswich MP Chris Mole was last night hopeful that the HEFCE meeting would result in a positive outcome.

He said: "It feels that this is the right time for this development in Ipswich. I would be worried if it doesn't happen now and the momentum for the project is lost."

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UCS project manager Carol Macaskill said: "This is the culmination of 18 months of hard work and concerted effort by all those involved."

UCS is expected to use land next to Suffolk College and a plot set aside at Ipswich Waterfront for the main university campus, making up a new Ipswich 'education quarter'. There will also be linked centres across the county.

The cash needed for phase one, which will include building student accommodation in Ipswich, is expected to come from private sector business investment.

The East of England Development Agency, Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council have also pledged contributions.

Suffolk is one of only four counties without a university and it loses an estimated £1million a week in economic activity because there is no university.

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce president Andy Rayner said the UCS project would benefit the wider Suffolk economy.

He said: "A university campus is long overdue for Suffolk and we will be supporting UCS wherever possible."

It is also hoped the university will stem the so-called "brain-drain" from the county by offering students the chance to stay and study higher education in Suffolk, while also supplying a university-educated workforce to local employers and opening up opportunities.

Among those waiting to hear the news was Nick Foster, director of the Suffolk Learning and Skills Council (LSC). The national LSC is due to consider granting £20million to rebuild Suffolk College, a major project closely linked to the UCS development.

Mr Foster said: "It will make a huge difference to the aspirations of young people and should provide a great impetus for adults and employers to continue their education. It is good news that this important building block in Ipswich is now finalised.

"This news will help the LSC reach its decision about the funding for the rebuilding of Suffolk College."

n The total cost of the scheme is expected to be £150 million over ten years.

n It is hoped the first students will be taught in the new facilities from September 2007.

n In November 2004 Suffolk County Council pledged £13 million towards buying land for the project.

n The plans include halls of residence for students and car parking.

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