The case for a University of the Lake District was reactivated this week with the publication of new proposals to merge a handful of colleges across Cumbria to form a new federal university.
The idea relies on an ambitious collaboration with a dozen colleges and university sites in the region, but nearby University of Central Lancashire is critical of the plans, claiming they are "inappropriate".
Pro vice chancellor James Lusty said much of what was envisaged was already in place in the region thanks to its associate college scheme that offers franchised higher education to 1,000 students. Central Lancashire also runs an electronic academic library for the Northwest, an idea that also features in the proposal.
"While we want to support increased higher education for Cumbria, this idea is out of date and not really appropriate and we have a number of reservations about it," Professor Lusty said.
The University of the Lakes was first mooted two years ago by Labour' MP Dale Campbell-Savours as a multi-campus federal university serving an international customer base.
Mr Campbell-Savours, MP for Workington, said the Lake District was uniquely placed because of its natural beauty to attract students from overseas and from other regions. But he stressed that a disproportionate number of local youngsters were failing to take part in higher education for historical and cultural reasons that the University of the Lakes was designed to overcome.
"Parents I talk to are increasingly worried about sending their offspring to inner-city universities," he said. "I believe they will be more attracted to a rurally based university where they will feel more secure."
A bid to the Millennium Commission for funding by Cumbria County Council was unsuccessful and new sources of backing are now being sought.
The model published this week proposes the establishment of a company limited by guarantee comprising the colleges and universities delivering services in Cumbria. Ultimately the aim would be to gain degree-awarding powers and the title "university" for the institution. Students would attend the existing college campus closest to their home and take part in lessons and tutorials using interactive video conferencing.
Groups of students could thus be smaller than would be economically viable by conventional means.