Doncaster College is the latest further education institution to declare plans to bid for university status. David Gates, its principal, confirmed this week that the college was aiming for a university title within six to eight years.
Higher education student numbers at the college's new university centre in High Melton will need to quadruple to about 4,000 full-time equivalents if Doncaster is to reach its goal.
Mr Gates, former principal of Keighley College in West Yorkshire, said: "We have a long tradition of providing higher education. The designation of the centre is an important step to create a university in Doncaster."
Mr Gates said the move was in keeping with the Foster review of further education, which concluded that colleges should focus on skills development.
"We will be developing provision in key vocational areas that will aid the local economy and regeneration of the district," he said.
Bill Webster, Doncaster's vice-principal, said that higher education represented a small proportion of the college's 40,000 students and so a move to university status could see the institution being split in two.
"There is no definite answer yet as to what direction we will take - whether we follow the Derby University route and become an amalgamated mixed-economy type of institution or whether we have to separate higher education from further education," he said.
Nevertheless the college is forging ahead with its plans, and has appointed David Sewell, on a two-year sabbatical from his post as dean of Hull University's faculty of science and the environment, as dean of its university centre.
Dr Sewell described the establishment of the centre, in partnership with Hull University, as "a clear statement of intent" by Doncaster to go for university status.
Doncaster had been in merger talks with Huddersfield University with a view to creating a new university in South Yorkshire. Talks collapsed in 2003 amid disagreements over the role that further education would play.
Doncaster joins a growing band of further and higher education colleges that have set out on the road to university status.
But John Widdowson, principal of New College Durham and chairman of the Mixed Economy Group of colleges, said that it was unlikely that many more further education institutions would follow suit.
"Most are more interested in gaining powers to validate their own foundation degrees, which would give them more flexibility to respond to local and regional needs," he said.
Aiming for a university title
- Doncaster College
- Edge Hill College of Higher Education
- York St John College (becomes York St John University College next month)
- St Martin's College, Lancaster
Higher education colleges that became universities last year
- Bath Spa
- Canterbury Christ Church
- Liverpool Hope
- Southampton Solent