Greenwich and Kent universities are pioneering the country's first higher education mall.
The two universities are behind a £20 million scheme to create a joint campus that will offer courses from both universities, Mid-Kent College of Further and Higher Education and eventually courses from other local colleges.
The project seeks to redefine the concept of the campus as a largely single-institution affair resembling a department store. The Medway campus will be more like the shopping mall in which different educational brands and products can be accessed on the same site.
The campus at Chatham, on the River Medway, will by 2010 cater for some 6,000 students ranging from further education to postgraduate. Serving a local population of about 250,000, it will offer everything from access-level courses up to PhD-level study.
It will become the University of Medway in all but name. Courses from bioscience and engineering to the humanities will be on offer, although the coverage will not be exhaustive as both universities offer a full range of courses at their main sites.
David Melville, vice-chancellor of Kent, said: "Effectively, we are creating a university the size of Keele. But it will not be a new university as such."
Rick Trainor, vice-chancellor of Greenwich, said: "The government is determined to find ways of getting extra people into higher education, and we want to find a way that makes academic sense as well as sense within the geographical area."
The project is strategically astute as both universities already have a presence in Chatham and the surrounding area. This could have resulted in a turf war for students, but the joint campus avoids this.
Greenwich will move students from its campuses at Woolwich and Dartford and save money by closing these sites.
The region is a ripe recruiting ground. The Medway area was hit economically when the Royal Dockyards closed in 1984 - towns such as Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham have a higher unemployment rate than average for the Southeast.
The 1991 census also found that Medway had a graduate population of 3.8 per cent compared with a national average of 7.2 per cent.
The Southeast of England Development Agency is behind the project and has made HMS Pembroke, part of the former barracks in the dockyard, available for the campus. The queen inaugurated the site last month.
Medway Council, established in 1998, included the creation of university provision in its first five-year plan.
Medway Council leaderRodney Chambers said: "The future for university provision at Medway is a bright one, a future that may, ultimately, lead to a University of Medway."
There is a strong research component to the project. The aim is to carry out blue-skies research, applied research and consultancy relevant to the local economy.
Greenwich already has a high research profile with its School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Medway School of Engineering and the Natural Resources Institute, along with the Business School at Medway, Medway Sciences, the Centre for Sustainable Development and the Centre for the Remediation of Contaminated Land.
The government and the Higher Education Funding Council for England want to see the university sector restructured to reflect its diversity and the need to widen participation. Hefce is contributing almost £4 million towards the initiative.
The Medway mall may provide a model for similar partnerships. Its appeal is that it avoids the administrative complexities of merger and fuller collaborations.
The campus also benefits from a joint administration with the costs shared. Most courses will be provided individually by the institutions but joint academic provision is planned in the shape of a School of Pharmacy and joint Medway European Business Centre. One future partner at the campus may be the Kent Institute of Art and Design, based in Maidstone.
Stage one of the project will last until 2006 and includes the reorganisation of Greenwich's existing Medway site to make room for Kent's transfer of its provision based at Horsted and Bridge Warden's College. Stage two will see progressive capital investment and will focus on business-oriented work that will provide a resource to the local community.