(Photograph) - The first cross-border further and higher education institution is opening in Northern Ireland.
The Pounds 1.3 million Rural College, close to the Irish border at Draperstown, is fully accredited by Queen's University and has established strong links with universities in the Republic as well as the mainland.
Mainly financed by the International Fund for Ireland, it aims to provide higher diploma and master degree courses relevant to rural people and catering for them where they live.
Courses include rural development, management of heritage and tourism, community development, local history, entrepreneurship and training.
State of the art teaching facilities include a modern lecture theatre and library as well as a "teaching wall" - an anti-reflective projection screen which can be used with a sliding white board. Videos can be shown on one side, slides on the other.
Situated in a 100-hectare oak forest, the college has 30 twin bedrooms and a licensed restaurant.
Staff have formed partnerships with the university colleges in Cork and Galway, St Patrick's College in Maynooth, Durham University Business School and the University of Humberside.
The college has been set up by a community organisation called Workspace which has been to the forefront of rural economic development strategies in the province over the last eight years.
College chairman John McLaughlin praised the foresight of the team. "But such a vision would never have manifested itself without resources, in this case finance," he said.
Apart from Pounds 535,000 from the International Fund for Ireland, the college received grants from the European Community, the Department of Agriculture and Ulster's Local Enterprise Development Unit, as well as Workspace.
College bosses say there is growing recognition that heritage offers a resource for sustainable development and there is a need to create awareness and provide education in this area.
A 30-week diploma in community development is aimed at councils and government departments as well as local community groups.