SWINDON remains the priority site for the University of the West of England, whether at Coate or in the town centre.

This is the message from the university’s deputy vice-chancellor, John Rushforth, pictured, who spoke at length to the Adver on UWE’s ambitions in Swindon.

He confirmed that several sites are being considered across Swindon, but hopes to have reached a decision by March, and is keen for progress to be made within the next year.

Mr Rushforth confirmed that although other locations are being considered Swindon remains the prime spot.

He said: “We are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to bring a university to Swindon.

“We are looking at other sites but I don’t see that as compromising our intentions in Swindon. If I talk to someone in Somerset that doesn’t stop me talking to someone in Swindon.

“But from all those discussions Swindon is our top priority.”

Mr Rushforth explained that UWE saw huge potential in Swindon for a higher education facility.

He said: “Swindon has a fabulous base of employers and that is very attractive to us in terms of establishing links with businesses.

“We also noticed that there is a low level of participation in education among the 18 plus market, which means there is untapped talent in the town.

“There is also a huge desire for a university, which filters through the politicians, businesses and throughout the community.”

UWE’s plans for a Swindon site would start small and have the potential to run to a 10,000 strong campus, comprising a mixture of young and adult learners, with possibilities to work with local businesses on training schemes.

He said: “What would be ideal would to be able to make a quick and early start on a town centre site and ideally we would like to see some headway on that within the next year.

“Obviously within such a short time period that would be in the form of something like a drop-in centre. It would take around three to four years before we could open the site, and we would be looking at around 1,000 students to begin with, rising to five or six thousand.

“Given our ambitions we would hope over a 20-year or so period to get something like 10,000 students.”

Mr Rushforth said that financial negotiations could be completed over the next few months and he hoped to be able to announce a decision on which site would get the university by March.

He said: “In the current climate there are plusses and minuses.

At the same time that money is tight, the government is keen to get projects off the ground that will benefit whole communities.

“I would very much like to be in a position in March to move this forward.”