Pounds 7.5m site aims to widen access in deprived area Sandwiched between two supermarkets a couple of miles outside the run-down Kent towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate, the new campus of Canterbury Christ Church University College is taking shape.
Unemployment is high in this once-prosperous part of the garden of England, due to the decline of agriculture, tourism and the docks. The area has European Union Objective 2 classification, which, according to the EU, is reserved for "areas facing industrial decline, rural areas, urban areas and areas facing a decline in the fishing industry".
Some 120,000 people live on the Isle of Thanet, making it the largest population centre in the country without its own higher education provision. Just 26 per cent of Thanet's young people go on to higher education, compared with the national average of 34 per cent.
Canterbury Christ Church University College hopes its Pounds 7.5 million campus will turn Thanet's fortunes around. It is working in partnership with the local district council, Thanet College of Further Education, local businesses and the South East Development Agency.
Principal Michael Wright said: "The college is making available opportunities for wider access to higher education in response to national policy objectives. The campus will also fulfil the changing needs of local employers and Thanet residents.
"Both groups need knowledge and skills in business, marketing, information and manufacturing technology, tourism and finance. More people with qualifications and skills in education and health and social care are also crucial to Thanet's future."
Some 800 students are expected to enrol in September, equivalent to 200 full-time places, with numbers increasing to 1,000 full-time equivalents within four years.
Campus director Roger Clayton said he expected almost all the students to come from the immediate area, many aged between 35 and 45 years, with others coming direct from school. Much of the provision will be part-time and at sub-degree level, with opportunities to progress to a full degree.
The timetable is challenging. The college announced its plans to create a Thanet campus only four months ago. In April, the Higher Education Funding Council allocated it an extra 735 student places. Four months from now, the first students will start their programmes at the new campus, which will be extended as more students arrive.
Building work is also going on next door. An innovation centre to support local businesses and stimulate the local economy will be created alongside the campus.
The leader of Thanet District Council, Richard Nicholson, said: "For too long Thanet has been seen as a backwater, an area of low skills and little opportunity. Our young people have had to leave the area to go to university, and many never return as their career aspirations cannot be fulfilled locally. All this is now changing."
Professor Wright said: "We need to ensure that as many local people as possible feel able to take up the option of higher education on their doorstep. When the new campus opens its doors, it will be with the intention of doing everything it can to ensure that Thanet improves its economic and educational achievements."