Pounds 2.5m offered for PFI 'pathfinders'

May 16, 1997

THE Higher Education Funding Council for England has made Pounds 2.5 million available to evaluate four new university Private Finance Initiative projects.

HEFCE will provide up to half the cost of financial, legal and technical advice to launch each "pathfinder" project. But institutions do not have to proceed along the PFI route if they conclude that another method of securing private-sector support would provide better value for money.

One project is at Keele University, which is planning to redevelop an 86-acre site just released from Green Belt regulations. The Pounds 11 million project includes an extension to the university's science park, new accommodation for 350 postgraduates and the building of "business incubator units" comprising development offices and laboratories.

Redevelopment is scheduled to start in July and finish in August 1998. Paul Rigg, university finance director said the university will soon call for private-sector bids to manage and service the incubator units and accommodation block.

Durham University's path-finder project aims to replace and upgrade information technology support systems for management. The management and servicing of the system could be contracted out to the private sector but Tom Rilland, project manager, said: "We are keeping an open mind on such matters and will be looking to consultants to help us make our decision". The view and opinions of selected staff from all sections of the university will be an important part of the project, he said.

Imperial College wants to connect its medical teaching sites electronically. The system would include voice, data and interactive video for teaching and research at the sites and links to selected GP surgeries. Some of the software has been developed by its own researchers and, if the university opts for the PFI route, would be made available to the private-sector partners chosen to manage and service the network.

Nene College is also keen on getting wired up. The college's pathfinder project aims to improve the provision of IT equipment for staff and students.

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