Up to 20 new university towns will be created under plans to expand higher education in the UK.
Towns will bid to have a new university campus or college built in their area by engaging in a ‘university challenge’ according to John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. These new campuses will either be linked to existing universities or could be created as entirely separate bodies.
The new scheme aims to not only rejuvenate towns with high levels of unemployment, but wants to give more adults the opportunity to gain a degree. Denham said: “I want to give communities the chance to show they can make the most of the power of higher education, help unlock the talent of their local people and help make them better off.”
The government aims to create at least 20 sites, 13 more than originally planned, which will open or have their funding agreed in the next six years at a total cost of £150m.
The plans, which are part of a wider drive to increase the number of young people going into higher education from 43 to 50 per cent, have encountered some scepticism due to recent studies which have shown that poorer students have been put off applying to University due to the growing levels of student debt generated by loans and costs of living away from home.
David Willetts, the Shadow Education Minister, said that the Conservative Party fully supported the plans for new campuses in towns that needed them although highlighted that the government had just cut £100m from the budget dedicated to helping adults who wanted to go back to college or university after a period at work.
“The British university is a really proud and distinguished brand, and we must not dilute it by calling any academic activity a university,” he said. “We have also seen the Open University very badly hit by cuts, so the current plans are deeply confused.”
The higher-education sector contributes around £50bn to the economy and sustains around 600,000 jobs.
Consultation to be held by the Higher Education Funding Council of England, aims to underline the importance of higher education provision for the rejuvination of local areas. They argue that the new plans could encourage six million adults with qualifications up to A-Levels or equivalent to consider a degree-level course.
Denham has expressed concern, saying that unless British universities change they risk losing their world dominance. Britain has four universities rated among the top ten in the world by Times Higher Education and is the second most popular destination for overseas students after America.
In the last five years, 11 towns or regions have hosted new universities and new higher education provisions. In addition to this funding has also been agreed for projects in Blackpool, Everton, Grimsby and North and South Devon.