An "unprecedented" strategic alliance between higher and further education institutions in Cumbria has spawned a new kind of university in the county.
University Ed. Cumbria is a collaborative venture between the Central Lancashire University, four further education colleges, St Martin's College of Higher Education and Cumbria Institute of the Arts.
Cumbria has no university, although Central Lancashire has campuses, and the initiative is designed to plug the hole in provision and improve the county's poor higher education participation rates.
All partners have agreed to badge all courses delivered through the initiative as University Ed. Cumbria. They will maintain their own identities for all other purposes.
The Learning and Skills Council Cumbria, which is coordinating the initiative, has described the move as "unprecedented in UK higher education" and predicted it could be a new model for higher education delivered through strategic partnerships between universities and colleges.
The LSC's executive director, Mick Farley, said the alliance was timely in the light of white paper proposals on tuition fees and collaboration between institutions.
Mr Farley said: "One of the consequences of the white paper, in our view, is that it increases pressure on young people to stay in their home area for higher education. That makes what we are trying to do even more important."
The alliance was forged as part of an effort to tackle higher education participation levels as low as 16 per cent in some parts of Cumbria. With no university based in the region, young people are half as likely as their peers elsewhere in the country to go on to higher education.
The alliance is to set up a joint strategic planning group that will integrate and coordinate academic development plans across the county to target shortage subjects and avoid duplication.
A report on higher education coverage in the area, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and carried out by former funding council chief executive Sir Brian Fender, is expected to recommend that other universities, which may include the Open University, the University of Northumbria and the University of Lancaster, join the alliance.
Sir Brian's report is also likely to recommend that Hefce provides resources for additional first-degree and postgraduate places in Cumbria to support the alliance.
The four further education partners are Carlisle College, Lakes College West Cumbria, Furness College and Kendall College.