Suffolk's university blueprint revealed

THE EADT today reveals the blueprint for a university in the centre of Ipswich, which will house 5,000 students and involve the relocation of Suffolk College.

By Graham Dines

THE EADT today reveals the blueprint for a university in the centre of Ipswich, which will house 5,000 students and involve the relocation of Suffolk College.

With just a few months left before a decision on the project is taken nationally, Ipswich MP Chris Mole has written to the Government urging support for the university which would help fulfil ministers' plans for an increase in student places in the UK.

The university is planned for six town centre sites, including the waterfront and land currently occupied by Suffolk College, which in turn will be relocated to buildings being vacated by the county council after it quits county hall in April for new headquarters in Ipswich Village.

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A decision on finance for the project, which is being backed by the University of Essex in Colchester and the Norwich-based University of East Anglia, is expected from the Higher Education Funding Council for England in July. The university's first two phases have been costed at £120m, while establishing the college on a new site will cost £45m.

Once planning approvals and land deals are finalised, work on relocating Suffolk College should start next year.

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Mr Mole said last night: "I have written to Treasury minister Paul Boateng urging him to ensure that funding for extra university places is an integral part of Chancellor Gordon Brown's comprehensive spending review, due to be published announced later this year.

"Establishing a university in Ipswich would be a huge boost for the Government's aim of sending 50% of school leavers to university."

Although Mr Mole has not ruled out a visit to Ipswich by the Chancellor, he has called a meeting at the end of April for key players including the Vice-Chancellors of Essex University and UEA, Professors Ivor Crewe and David Eastwood, and representatives of the Higher Education Funding Council and the Learning and Skills Council.

To ensure all-party support, a delegation of academics and council chiefs travelled to the House of Commons last week to outline details to the county's Conservative MPs, including Sir Michael Lord, who represents Suffolk Central and Ipswich North.

The university - as yet unnamed but with the working title University for Suffolk - should be open for its first students by the autumn of 2007.

Once completed, it will propel Ipswich into the forefront of higher education in England and will be the culmination of Cardinal Wolsey's dream of 500 years ago to make his home town a premier seat of learning.

Suffolk has suffered by not having its own university, and although the college provides degree courses, the county is a net exporter of higher education students. It is hoped that a university in Ipswich - with four associated colleges throughout the county - will encourage school leavers will take their degree courses in Suffolk.

University schools of health, education, business and the arts, as well as a graduate school, are planned for the town centre sites. Its promoters believe location is all important as surveys indicate students prefer to attend universities at the heart of urban and entertainment complexes rather than on the outskirts.

Phase one of the Ipswich education project will be the relocation of Suffolk College from its existing Grimwade Street premises the north side of Rope Walk on sites currently occupied by the county council's social care and resource management departments, the social club, and the authority's staff car parks.

The college will continue further education provision for Ipswich and Suffolk, accommodating around 2,000 full-time and 6,000 part-time students, and a catalyst for 10,000 on leisure-learning courses. It will be completed fully once the county council finally vacates St Edmund House, currently the home of its environment and transport and consumer protection directorates.

At the same time, work will start on accommodation blocks for 500 students on land bounded by Duke Street and Fore Hamlet.

The university is to be built in four phases. The first encompasses three sites - between Neptune Quay, Copralite Street and Fore Street, land surrounding the redundant St Clement's Church, and on Suffolk College's car park.

The second phase backs on to St Clement's Congregational Church, while the third and biggest consumes the major part of the land being vacated by Suffolk College.

The fourth phase promises to be the most attractive, to be built between two major housing projects on the waterfront now under construction. Fronting Orwell Quay and a public square and overlooking the Wet Dock, it will be alongside a multi-story car park being provided for use by the university and visitors to the docks and surrounding restaurants.

Underpinning the development to the east will be a spine road from Rope Walk and Milner Street alongside Alexandra Park to the public square at Orwell Quay in Ipswich docks. This will supplant the roundabout bottleneck at Grimwade Memorial Hall, the junction of Fore Hamlet, Back Hamlet, and Duke Street.

Alexandra Park will be incorporated into the university as part of the campus, although public access will be maintained.

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