The University of the Highlands and Islands project has this week advertised for a chief executive to steer the project to fruition.
Applications for the Pounds 55,000 post, advertised in today's THES, close at the end of August, three weeks before the Millennium Commission makes its final decision on whether to provide Pounds 25 million to support the scheme.
A project spokesman said there were hopes that the chief executive would be in post by January. The successful applicant would not only have a strong academic track record, but would have to have an understanding of the Highlands and Islands, he said.
The unexpected support of Michael Forsyth, secretary of state for Scotland, has boosted optimism about the feasibility of a high-tech, federal, dispersed campus, bringing together 12 existing colleges of further education and specialist institutions in the region.
Mr Forsyth said information technology could create a new style of institution.
A team of Millennium Commission consultants has been investigating the UHI project proposals for several months, the project spokesman said.
"September is make and break for our bid to the commission, but it's not make or break for the UHI project. The determination to succeed should not be underestimated."
Valerie McIver, convener of the project steering committee and the Highland Council's education committee, said: "This is one of the most important projects affecting the future social and economic well- being of our distinctive area and I am delighted that it is gaining such momentum."
The project team believes the university would inject around Pounds 70 million into the economy annually, creating 700 direct jobs, and another 400 indirect jobs.
Project director Robin Lingard said: "There is still a colossal amount of work to do but this news comes as a considerable relief as we now have a further opportunity to convince people of the strength of our case. A rejection of the proposal at this point would have been a bitter blow."