INCREASING our higher education provision here in Swindon is something I feel really passionate about.

As a member of the Swindon Challenge Board, which is working hard to drive up educational attainment in the town, one of our key objectives is to increase the number of people in Swindon who access higher education.

A relatively low number of our pupils apply for a place at university and we know low attainment and the fact some pupils do not want to continue their studies are big factors in this.

Our good employment rate undoubtedly has a part to play and, while it is great we are a town with many job and apprenticeship opportunities, we want to encourage more young people to earn the qualifications that will enable them to develop even further in their careers.

Programmes are already running throughout our schools to challenge and inspire our pupils and we recently launched our Swindon Learning Town initiative which has a strong emphasis on raising the aspirations and ambitions of all children, young people and adults.

But increasing the number of courses and learning programmes within Swindon is one way we can encourage our young people to stay in education.

So I was delighted that this week a lease was agreed with Royal Agricultural University to enable them to run Swindon’s first Cultural Heritage Institute at the historic Council-owned Carriage Works.

The university has agreed a 20-year lease and will deliver postgraduate and professional training to plug a national skills gap in archaeology, and a demand from businesses in the South West of England for career, professional development courses such as heritage management. The Carriage Works is therefore a fitting venue, steeped in its railway heritage and courses will be delivered from this September.

The conversion of the Carriage Works will see new offices, seminar rooms, a library and lecture space put into Unit 11 of the West Shed, courtesy of a bespoke standalone structure. It builds on the successful conversion of Units 3 and 5, which have been transformed into the WorkShed business hub.

The Council will invest more than £3m on the next phase of the regeneration of the Carriage Works to enable the Cultural Institute to go ahead but this will be a class-leading facility which could lead to the university expanding its offer in the town in future years.

We have recently seen Oxford Brookes increase its own presence in Swindon and both our colleges are offering more higher education courses. If Swindon’s bid for an Institute of Technology is also successful, then there is a really good chance even more of our young people will be inspired to carry on their educational journeys