Hopes that Suffolk may get a university were raised this week as the University of East Anglia confirmed that it was examining plans for a new campus for 8,000 students in the county.
UEA confirmed that it had commissioned accountants KPMG to carry out a feasibility study into plans for a campus in Ipswich, but said that the proposals would go no further without a healthy financial settlement for higher education in the comprehensive spending review, due to be announced in November.
A spokeswoman for the Norwich-based university said a campus for the relatively badly served area of Suffolk would make sense in the light of government plans to get 50 per cent of under 30s into higher education by 2010.
But she said that UEA was only at an early stage of discussions, the move was dependent on government funding and there was little detail to report.
James Hehir, chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council and a leading campaigner for a university for Suffolk, said there was a groundswell of local opinion in favour of a major higher education provider in the county.
"This is absolutely extremely important news for Ipswich, and we've been working on it for seven or eight years," he said. "Ipswich is one of the fastest growing places in Britain and one of only two counties without a 'proper' university."
He said that Suffolk College offered UEA-accredited degrees but that reviews as part of the town's "IP-City" programme to attract high-tech companies to the region had found significant skills gaps.
"We have developed a high-tech cluster here with about 250 companies in the Ipswich area. Cambridge University has just opened a postgraduate centre here, and University College London is involved. But we have identified a higher education shortfall."
He said that it was part of UEA's original constitution to serve Norfolk and Suffolk, and that an Ipswich campus to complement its Norwich campus made perfect sense.
Land had already been earmarked for the campus on Ipswich's regenerated riverside, he said.
Kay Phillips, from Suffolk Learning and Skills Council, said: "Suffolk LSC would welcome a higher education presence in our county and would want to play an active part in its development.
"The lack of a higher education presence does have an impact on the skills base in the county; people leave to stay in neighbouring counties and beyond and do not tend to return.
"If we have such a presence, hopefully we will manage to retain some of those people and their skills, which would otherwise be lost."
It is understood that UEA's governing senate will consider a paper on the campus plan later this month.