Suffolk could have the country's first community televersity before the end of the decade, according to a report by management consultants Touche Ross.
The new university, based around Suffolk College in Ipswich, could expect to reach at least 15,000 students over the next ten years through a network of 15 local learning centres packed with the latest technology from British Telecom Laboratories at Martlesham.
BT is already working closely with Suffolk College on developing the technological architecture of the new learning centres - which could range from schools, community centres and workplaces. The advanced equipment could include retractable vision consuls, laser panels, electronic satchels, portable visual panels, video visors, and space-style "docks" instead of old-fashioned "desks".
Richard Nicol, head of research at BT, said: "Computer technology is second nature to most ten-year-olds - not least because of computer games - and these are the ones who will be going to the Suffolk university of the future. And when they get there, they are not going to expect books, but advanced computers."
Suffolk is one of the last counties without a university, and the hi-tech institution could expect to have an enormous impact on the region. The Touche Ross report estimates that the number of degree students could rise from 2,500 to 15,000 by 2005. Currently, some 6,500 students - more than 70 per cent of Suffolk's degree-calibre students - are educated outside the county.
The economic impact on the locality could exceed Pounds 40 million each year, mainly from staff and student spending, capital spending and increased inward investment. More than 90 per cent of Suffolk businesses are small and medium sized, employing fewer than 25 people. The university is likely to provide a door-step centre for upskilling and leading-edge contract research.
The new institution is expected to develop faculties which enhance the strengths of the Suffolk economy. These include the traditional agriculture and land-based industries, but also emerging industries like business and finance, performance and the creative arts, and management.
The university task group, which was established in August last year, is now seeking Government approval. Eric McCoy, task group chairman and local lawn mower manufacturer, said: "We would like to start as a university college and then become a fully independent university of Suffolk." Suffolk College is hoping to become an accredited college of the University of East Anglia over the next 12 months.