Queen's University Belfast is pressing ahead with a new campus in Armagh, Northern Ireland's third city and ecclesiastical centre. The campus is likely to open in the autumn.
The announcement steals a march on the University of Ulster whose proposals for a fifth campus in West Belfast are still being investigated by the Government.
Negotiations by Queen's to lease a former hospital bought by the district council in Armagh, which already has a large further education college, are close to completion. Activities will include Ireland's first centre for the study of religion. Queen's is confident that the peace process will help the centre attract funding from the European Union and the International Fund for Ireland.
The centre will be a base for theological research and a resource for the province's main churches, which have long called for such an institution, and for schools which are required to provide education for mutual understanding involving cross-community contact under the common curriculum.
Sir Gordon Beveridge, vice chancellor of Queen's, said in a letter to the council that the centre would be a hub for the university's academic activities in the south of the province.
He said the university will be in a position to go ahead with registration once Government restrictions on the numbers of full-time students have eased.
Plans envisage places for 210 part-time and postgraduate students and form part of Sir Gordon's "grand vision," made public last year, to expand Queen's beyond Belfast.