The first tangible foundations for the proposed new University for Suffolk were laid this week with the launch of a Suffolk Business School, which is expected to become the business studies arm of the county's first independent higher education institution.
Suffolk Training and Enterprise Council has put in Pounds 1 million to kickstart the school, which opens this week. It will initially be run by Suffolk's four further education colleges: Otley, Lowestoft, West Suffolk College and University College Suffolk, which will provide the higher education courses with accreditation from the University of East Anglia.
The school will at first be based on existing, mainly further education, provision, delivered through distance-learning networks. "But Suffolk wants a university of its own," said Tricia Buckley of the Training and Enterprise Council. "It is hoped that this school will become the school of management for a Suffolk University."
Eric McCoy, chairman of the Televersity for Suffolk Company, set up as a task group to develop the new university, said: "I hope that this initiative will encourage industry, commerce and the professions to commit more resources to the University for Suffolk."
Eddie Gule, a director at University College Suffolk,a higher education provider accredited by the University of East Anglia, said the move should be seen as a major move towards the University of Suffolk. "This is the first real step, in terms of money, given to a cross-county initiative," he said. "We are still legally a further education college. There needs to be a much stronger identity of higher education provision in the county. " University College Suffolk would provide the fulcrum of the distance learning-based Suffolk "televersity", providing access to HE in a sparsely populated rural county, he said.
But Mr Gule said the Dearing report could inhibit the original plan for an independent institution, with its own degree-awarding powers and full university status. "Given Dearing, it might become much more a federation arrangement. Who knows what our relationship with the UEA will be in five, ten years' time."
* University College Suffolk's claim to the title "university college" may be in question after Dearing's recommendation of a clampdown on the use of the term.