University in Suffolk 'must happen now'

LEADERS of a bid to bring a university to Suffolk are confident the project will get the final go-ahead in just a few weeks' time.They spoke of their hopes yesterdayas a bid for an initial £15million to establish the University Campus Suffolk (UCS) was sent to funding decision-makers.

By Jonathan Barnes

LEADERS of a bid to bring a university to Suffolk are confident the project will get the final go-ahead in just a few weeks' time.

They spoke of their hopes yesterdayas a bid for an initial £15million to establish the University Campus Suffolk (UCS) was sent to funding decision-makers.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will consider the bid and make a decision by the end of next month - a crucial date on the future of the £150m project, which is a partnership between the Universities of Essex and East Anglia.


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It could see work starting on the main university campus and a new further education (FE) college, on the Education Quarter in Ipswich, within the next 12 months.

But, at a conference at the Port of Felixstowe to mark the presentation of the business plan, a warning was sounded that any setbacks or delays to be university bid could be disastrous.

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James Hehir, chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council, said: “It has got to happen now. Ipswich's waterfront is developing so fast that land we have got available for a university would be taken up for other uses [if the bid is rejected]. It would be devastating, because we expect we are going to win.”

If the bid gets the go-ahead, project leaders would work towards opening the university in the 2007-8 academic year, catering for about 4,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students by 2009.

The university would provide an “innovative and modern” curriculum including key subjects and new courses “with a local flavour”, including studies into renewable energies, transport and logistics.

The first phase of the project is over five years to 2009, and is worth £75m. The entire project, over 10 years, is costed at £150m and so far about £350m has either been pledged towards the university or is in the pipeline for future investment.

The plan is to incorporate a network of learning centres across Suffolk, linked to the central campus, although final decisions have not been reached on where to locate the facilities.

Richard Lister, head of external relations at the University of Essex, said the £15m bid for capital funds was one of the biggest that HEFCE had ever considered.

He said the idea of a university in Suffolk was not on the Government's list of priorities a year ago but was now “a real contender” in the competitive funding shake-up.

“It is a time-limited opportunity and we have moved very quickly. I believe the bid has a substantial chance of being achieved,” he added.

The bid is being supporters by a number of stakeholders, including Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council and the East of England Development Agency, all of whom have pledged millions of pounds to the first phase funding.

Bryony Rudkin, county council leader, said the university would play “a central part” in regenerating Suffolk.

It is estimated the university would boost the region's economy by about £50m a year and lessen the need for young people to leave Suffolk to further their education and career.

Ivor Crewe, vice-chancellor of the University of Essex, added: “The new university will transform Suffolk's economic potential, reverse its brain drain and provide a range of opportunities within the county for a new generation of students.”

The project is running parallel with a £50m facelift plan for Suffolk College, which would transfer its HE contracts to the new university and concentrate on FE courses.

Both institutions would be based on Suffolk College's existing Rope Walk site and on nearby land on Ipswich's waterfront.

Dave Muller, principal of Suffolk College, said the buildings and facilities of the two institutions would be integrated “to provide seamless progression from high-quality further education and vocational training to university-level education.”

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