Swindon vision focuses on cable campus

August 4, 1995

A blueprint for a high-tech university, with students working largely from home instead of on a traditional campus, is being commissioned to help meet the outstanding lack of higher education provision in Swindon, Wiltshire.

A budget of Pounds 20,000 has been allocated for a research project that will be used to provide "a vision and strategy" for the development of higher education in the fast-growing town.

Seagal Quince Wicksteed, a firm of economic and management consultants from Swavesey, near Cambridge, has been chosen to draw up the blueprint.

The company will work closely with a new steering group made up of education, business and civic bodies and must present the blueprint by September 31.

The concept, making full use of rapid advances in communications technology, could lead to students contacting their lecturers through Swindon's cable television network.

A central university site with laboratories and research facilities would still be required. Nearby Princess Alexandra's RAF hospital, due to close next year due to defence cuts, is being considered as a possible site by Thamesdown Council based in Swindon.

The steering group's chairman Tony Mayer said that it is excited about the "totally novel" project, with the prospect of home-based students plugging in their personal computers. "One of the providers could be the University of California; why not?" he asked.

Only two years ago, a scheme for a Pounds 110 million university campus in North Swindon failed to get off the ground. If this plan is successful it would coincide with Swindon's hopes of achieving city status within the next decade.

The council's director of financial services, Jack Thornton, said: "Swindon and Wiltshire stand out in their lack of higher education provision. Few ambitious cities are now without a university."

He said there was a general acceptance within the steering group that the traditional route by which higher education was delivered in fixed locations at fixed times was being largely superseded.

In its place were more flexible patterns which are more relevant to the changing needs of people for higher education.

"This flexibility is being made possible by the rapid advances in communications technology," he said.

The reduction in maintenance grants for students in higher education causes considerable hardship for students and their families.

"This is eased where students are able to live at home while pursuing their studies," he said.

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