Doncaster took a "major step" towards gaining its own university today as a further education college campus was officially designated a "University Centre".
Leaders of the Doncaster Education City project, set up two years ago to oversee the process of developing education and training in Doncaster, said that the centre could become a university within six years.
University Centre status has been given to Doncaster College's High Melton campus by Hull University, the college's higher education partner.
Hull already validates degree courses for the equivalent of more than 1,000 full-time students based at the site.
Now Doncaster College heads are setting their sights on gaining taught degree-awarding powers so that the centre can apply for university status.
The college already has sufficient breadth of subjects to warrant university status. It has to offer degree programmes in at least five disciplines to satisfy Hull's criteria for a University Centre.
But Arthur Ridings, the project's coordinator, admitted that "serious challenges" lay ahead in bringing student numbers up to 4,500 full-time equivalents - the number required for university status.
He added that there was also a challenge in building the kind of academic ethos expected by quality watchdogs.
With £18 million in backing from the Learning and Skills Council, Pounds 20 million from Doncaster Borough Council and £34 million from Doncaster College, new foundation degree and degree programmes are planned from next year.
Professor Ridings said: "That will pose some serious challenges for the college. It must decide whether to carry on as a further and higher education institution or to split into two.
"It is a very big question that the college governors will need to address."
Professor Ridings said the Doncaster area had suffered from a decline in traditional industries such as mining and engineering, and that it was in serious need of a university to raise skill levels and stimulate economic growth.
He added that achievement and progression rates among 16 to 19-year-olds in the region were below the national average.
Professor Ridings said: "We feel there should at least be a local option open to students in the area hoping to go on to university."