'Cool' campus will use Playstations

June 14, 2002

A £150 million project to create a new university in South Yorkshire aims to attract 70,000 students with an entertainment-based approach to higher education pioneered in Australia.

Supporters of Doncaster Metropolitan University, which will resemble a shopping mall rather than an ivory tower, say the idea will enable the government to meet its 50 per cent participation target.

George Holmes, principal of Doncaster College and project leader, said the university would be a "cool place to hang out" and the Playstation would be a key curriculum delivery tool.

"This is the kind of transformation we need in Doncaster and the time is now right to do it because it fits perfectly with the current policy agenda," he said.

The university would be the first in the UK to cater for 14-year-olds through to adults by combining leisure and business with school, further education and degree-level study on one campus.

Following the results of a feasibility study by independent consultants, which reported yesterday on the educational and financial arguments in favour of the new university, Dr Holmes said he would now be seeking an academic partner.

Discussions are taking place with the universities of Hull, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and the Open University and the new university is expected to become independent of its partner within seven years.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has given backing for the project to proceed to the next phase after a visit last week by chief executive Sir Howard Newby.

Doncaster has some of the poorest attainment figures in the country. The district's higher education participation rate is 41 per cent below the national average. More than a quarter of adults have poor literacy skills and 29 per cent have poor numeracy skills.

The nearest universities are 23 miles away but Dr Holmes is hopeful of acquiring a large derelict waterfront site in the town centre as the university's main campus, which could include a central foodhall housing franchises such as Pizza Express and Starbucks. Executive loft-style apartments, social housing and entertainment facilities are planned.

Dr Holmes believes the solution to the local cultural resistance towards learning lies in leisure-based learning that has found success in Melbourne, Australia.

Money will be raised through the sale of the college's four sites. The rest is expected to come from the borough council, the Learning and Skills Council, Hefce, business partners and the European Union.

Dr Holmes was involved in the creation of two other new universities - the University of North London, as deputy vice-chancellor, and the University of Lincoln, where he was academic director. It is the latter model he hopes to emulate in Doncaster.

A broad range of qualifications, from adult literacy to PhDs, would be offered and local headteachers would have a say in the university's management.

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