PRESSURE is building for Swindon to get its own university after the Government announced this week that 12 new universities would be created – including one in nearby Cirencester.
Ten of these are long-established specialist institutions which are set to be awarded full university status, including the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester, which is at present a university college.
Two, possibly three, private colleges are also expected to be made universities, though not all will be for-profit facilities.
Swindon has already seen its university hopes dashed twice in recent years. The University of Bath intended to establish a base in Swindon and then later the University of West England had plans to expand into the borough.
However, neither reached fruition for various reasons, including changes to central Government policy and funding arrangements.
Mark Dempsey, Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Swindon North, who is also Swindon Council’s Labour group leader, said Swindon Council now needed to press ahead with a project to secure a university.
He said: “Swindon desperately needs a university for the future of our town. Swindon is the largest town or city in the country without its own university.
“Swindon is among the worst 10 per cent of local authorities in England for participation in higher education at 18, and yet our future economic prospects are dependent on providing university level skills. By the year 2020, two out of three jobs created will need university level skills.
“It is deeply disappointing that after eight years, the Tory council has failed to secure a university for Swindon.
“Whereas, as a result of this week’s announcement, even Cirencester has its own university.”
Coun Stan Pajak, the Lib Dem group leader, said: “We would like to see Swindon have its own university, but that seems to be getting harder and harder as these announcements happen and Swindon isn’t included.”
In the summer, Swindon Council set up a dedicated group to support the long-term ambition. It comprises representatives from business, the council, the colleges and other partners.
On December 12, cabinet will consider a report informed by the group, which sets out a series of proposed steps to eventually achieve a university in Swindon, rather than establishing one straight away.
Coun David Renard, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “The agricultural college in Cirencester is an existing educational establishment which the Government have agreed to give additional status to.
“What we’re trying to do in Swindon is set up a new institution and what we’ve got back from Government is they don’t have an appetite for setting up any new universities from scratch.
“The challenge we have in Swindon is we have a number of providers which offer higher education and we would ideally love to have a university in Swindon but without Government funding that’s not possible.
“So what the report going before council on December 12 is looking at is how can we achieve that without support from Government.”