Setting up a federal University of the Highlands and Islands may require funding of up to Pounds 110 million by the end of the century, according to one of its leading champions.
Robin Lingard, director of the UHI project, has revealed that a massive fundraising campaign is being planned to achieve university status as soon as possible after the year 2000.
The project, which is backed by local tertiary institutions and public sector bodies, envisages the region's 12 further education colleges and research institutions evolving into a university with a minimum of 4,000 full-time equivalent students, offering first degrees across five disciplines, and research degrees.
It is estimated that Pounds 8 million will be needed over the next five or six years to upgrade the library facilities of the 12 network members.
And to turn every site into the local campus of a federal university, said Mr Lingard, may cost up to Pounds 100 million.
But he stressed that the project partners believe that having a local university will bring annual economic benefits of Pounds 70 million to the region, and that each step towards this goal can help towards local individuals and busines-ses securing their own future prosperity.
The report concedes that significant funding from central government is unlikely.
The project has already made an initial Pounds 50 million bid to the Millennium Fund, and is preparing a more detailed bid to support capital development on individual campuses. It is also likely to seek funding from abroad.
Mr Lingard emphasised the need for academic as well as financial partnerships.
"Several universities already active in the Highlands and Islands have indicated a readiness to support the UHI project and to assist in filling out the curriculum, sharing expertise in technology or research methods, offering staff development opportunities or undertaking strategic planning," he said.
Partnerships could also be extended into Europe through the European Union's Socrates programme, and there was also the prospect of links with individual institutions, particularly in the Nordic countries, which had a specific regional or distance learning outlook, he said.
The first jointly developed degree courses are planned to be launched next session following Open University validation.
Mr Lingard said that they would be available simultaneously at a number of colleges across the region, and subsequently by distance learning.