University dream edges closer in Suffolk

SUFFOLK'S dream of having its own university moved a step closer last night when money was released to enable consultants to draw up plans for the complex on land in the centre of Ipswich.

By Graham Dines

SUFFOLK'S dream of having its own university moved a step closer last night when money was released to enable consultants to draw up plans for the complex on land in the centre of Ipswich.

Funding has been made available from the Higher Education Funding Council, which has granted £245,000 to project partners the Universities of Essex and East Anglia. They have been asked by the Council's chairman Sir Howard Newby to undertake a feasibility study.

The announcement was made after Sir Howard met Ipswich's Labour MP Chris Mole in London.

Mr Mole said: "The HEFC would not be sanctioning the spending of a quarter of a million pounds on employing consultants unless it was pretty serious and excited about building a university for the county."

The university would be sited on land between Ipswich docks, Suffolk College, and the county council's headquarters complex, which is to be vacated in April when the authority moves to a new building in Ipswich Village.

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Mr Mole said: "This is excellent news on our long road to getting a university for Suffolk. The money will allow the next phase of development of the physical plans to move ahead, and I am confident that the prospect of a university in Ipswich is now more of a reality than ever."

He added: "In the 10 years I have been campaigning for a university for Suffolk, I have never felt so positive."

Suffolk is a net exporter of students and Bob Feltwell, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said the HEFC's decision to put real money into employing consultant was tremendous news.

"We believe we need to raise the skills base of the young people of this county and a university would fulfil that objective," said Mr Feltwell. "This is the best chance Suffolk has had of having a university since the days of Cardinal Wolsey."

The final decision on whether the university will get the go-ahead depends on the Government continuing to expand undergraduate places to its target of 50% of school leavers going to university.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is expected to decide the level of cash for new universities in the triennial Comprehensive Spending Review later this year.

Mike More, chief executive of Suffolk County Council, said: "This clear commitment from the HEFC is the best possible news for Suffolk.

"A feasibility study which will also look at curriculum possibilities will be ready in time for the Chancellor's funding announcement in July."

At Prime Minister's questions - before his meeting with Sir Howard Newby - Mr Mole was assured by Tony Blair that university expansion is still a government priority.

Mr Mole is working with other Labour MPs that are also making a case for new higher education facilities, especially in Swindon and Doncaster.

However, Ipswich's parliamentary Tory candidate Paul West issued a word of caution about the need for more university places.

"Many young people would welcome a far greater opportunity to learn a trade. The great and the good seem to have forgotten about those who want to be plumbers, carpenters and mechanics.

"It is about time that politicians set their minds to increasing the country's skill base in these areas too, rather than being concerned about boosting university numbers even further," said Mr West.

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