The brave new wave

April 21, 1995

Local communities are learning lightning-fast. In city halls and county chambers from Cornwall to Cumbria and beyond, it is almost de rigeur for the dynamic, go-far councillor to propose plans for a new regional university. In the past 12 months, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has catalogued the fact that millennial projects for 11 universities have been developed (see page 2). Who can doubt that the next five years will witness the launch of many more new and ambitious university projects?

The latest wave of local community enthusiasm for higher education was whipped up after the staggering findings of a study into the likely economic benefits of the purpose-built University of Lincolnshire, which opens in October 1996 and expects to cater for 5,000 students by the end of the century. It is predicted that Lincolnshire will be an annual Pounds 50 million boost to the local economy. That sort of money gets people listening. The Highland and Islands University may rake in Pounds 72 million, and Cornwall's university may be a Pounds 12.6 million plus point.

Universities have other local benefits. As learning institutions, they are rich repositories of skills and expertise, allowing local people to update antiquated skills and broaden their horizons and allowing local industry to make use of the best brains. As commissioners of the built environment, they are in a position to influence the aesthetic panorama of the locality and attract the best architects. The Cambridge law faculty and Thames Valley University have both recently commissioned stunning work from Sir Norman Foster and Sir Richard Rogers.

But perhaps universities have an even greater - and often little-considered - contribution to make to local communities. As huge communities in themselves, they can profoundly influence the local feeling of fellowship and neighbourhood. The projected Belfast-based Springvale campus will straddle the peaceline, healing the wounds of sectarian conflict. University projects are also bringing people together, often for the first time and certainly from all walks of local life: business, politics, industry, and of course education.

These associations suggest something about the regional universities of tomorrow. They will be the creations of local collaboration in a way which the Robbins generation of universities never were.

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