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Higher Education Facilities

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 11 June 2009

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Higher Education Funding Council for England on new locations for higher education facilities in England. (279007)

On 6 May, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) wrote to the HEFCE reaffirming the Government’s commitment to the new university challenge.

Is the Minister aware that probably nowhere in England is further away from any institute of higher education than Berwick-upon-Tweed, and that a very good community-based bid involving Sunderland university and institutions on both sides of the border is going to be submitted? May I ask her and her fellow Ministers to take a close personal interest in filling this gap and bringing something to Berwick that would be hugely beneficial on both sides of the border?

As the right hon. Gentleman may know, some 27 areas have expressed an initial interest in applying for a new university centre. We have been delighted with the enthusiastic response from partnerships across the whole of England. I am sure that the application from his constituency will be considered alongside all the others, but we certainly take a special interest in it.

My right hon. Friend will know that in South Yorkshire our only higher education institutions are based in Sheffield. As long ago as the early 1990s, the three former coalfield boroughs of Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster were successful in winning city challenge funding from the previous Government. We tried to make our flagship project the establishment of a university of the coalfields in the Dearne valley. Would it not be fantastic if this Government could achieve the grand objective that the boroughs set, as long ago as the early 1990s, of establishing a university of the coalfields in the Dearne valley in South Yorkshire?

I know how passionately my hon. Friend feels about the quite low aspirations, in a sense, to go to university that there have been in our area among young people. I know, not only as a fellow South Yorkshire MP but as the regional Minister, that he has been campaigning extremely hard on that. He is absolutely right—we need to do everything we can to support young people in our area in going to university. That has been our aim, and it will continue to be so.