No university costs county £1m a week

THE lack of a university in Suffolk is costing the local economy more than £1 million every week, it has been revealed.Suffolk County Council released the figure ahead of a meeting next Thursday , when it is expected to press ahead with efforts to bring a higher education (HE) establishment to the county.

THE lack of a university in Suffolk is costing the local economy more than £1 million every week, it has been revealed.

Suffolk County Council released the figure ahead of a meeting next Thursday , when it is expected to press ahead with efforts to bring a higher education (HE) establishment to the county.

The universities of Essex and East Anglia are currently in early discussions with Suffolk College officials about such a scheme.

It is hoped a £160million campus, likely to be based in Ipswich but with three or four rural satellite centres, would be ready to open within four years.


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Last night, James Hehir, Ipswich Borough Council chief executive, said the current losses to the local economy were now likely to be nearing £1.5m every week. In 1995, consultants Touche Ross estimated the figure to be £1m.

Cllr Tony Lewis, portfolio holder responsible for education at the county council, added: "Once a university is located in a place it tends to flower and grow in terms of economic development.

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"It boosts the entire economy. If people are better educated and highly qualified then they go into better-paid jobs and spend money locally.

"At the moment what we have is young people leaving Suffolk to go to university and they do not come back, except at weekends.

"People move into the county and there is a net migration in from London and professionals who want to start families. Most of the people that move in are the older people who want the quiet life.

"These people are important to the economy but we need to catch the people in between."

He added: "We have got a lot of high tech industries locally in the corridor between Ipswich and Cambridge and it is growing.

"Cambridge is full up as far as those industries are concerned and further expansion will take place in that corridor into Suffolk. But companies, such as BT, have to spend all their time looking for graduates for those sorts of industries as we don't grow our own in Suffolk."

In a report commission for the county council – and due to be put before councillors next Thursday – economic development consultants SQW Limited say in the long term, courses should be provided for at least 7,400 students.

New buildings to cater for the scheme would need an area of 40,000 square metres, they add.

Mr Lewis explained a university would "stimulate" the local economy and encourage businesses to move into the area.

He added the lack of a university and the financial injection this brings could also cause social problems.

"If you're in an area of higher unemployment or in places where there are low paid jobs then that's where you get more social problems and more families in difficulties.

"There are areas of Suffolk where unemployment is 20% or higher and others, like Bury St Edmunds, where unemployment is very low. A university would have beneficial effects on the local economy and peoples' life chances."

Graham Fretwell , director for quality and innovation at the Suffolk branch of the Learning and Skills Council, said people in the county were not being given the opportunity to progress to higher education and develop skills, which was affecting the economy.

He added: "The lack of a university means there are fewer enterprising opportunities for students and the young entrepreneurs cannot be taken to the highest level.

"There is a business need for research and specialist back up and support, which universities usually offer, and there is also the recruitment issue, with businesses finding it difficult to find an increasingly highly skilled workforce in Suffolk.

"It is also hard to attract businesses from here and overseas to the county without the infrastructure that a university provides, so there are also denied opportunities there too."

Bob Feltwell, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said a university would make the county "a better place to do business" and would bring people into the area who are more likely to start small companies.

He added: "The main benefit is that currently the grants Suffolk County Council pay out to students who study elsewhere in the UK would be spent in Suffolk instead. That would be a significant amount of money for the local economy."

One plan is to have a central "hub" university in Ipswich – possibly based around the existing Suffolk College site, including the soon-to-be redundant county council buildings – with local centres based throughout Suffolk, which can offer specialist courses aimed at mature students.

Mr Hehir outlined exactly how this would support the economy in the borough of Ipswich.

"The university would bring jobs for lecturers and academics and there would be spin offs in the arts and sports culture.

"The students would spend money here as they enjoy themselves here, on food, drinks, as well as in bars. There would also be the benefits of people travelling long distances to come here and visit."

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