Staffordshire University's £90m plan for 4,500 new students in city
UP TO £90 million could be spent on transforming a university campus so it can cater for thousands of extra students.
Staffordshire University is currently consulting on whether to shut its Stafford site and relocate the courses to its main Stoke-on-Trent campus.
If the move goes ahead, it could have major knock-on benefits for the city's economy, with more students visiting shops and bars and more academics using the Potteries as a base for research and innovation.
But the university today played down speculation that it could take over the 15-acre site in Stoke, which is currently home to Stoke-on-Trent City Council's civic centre, the King's Hall, the former Spode works and Kingsway car park.
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Vice-chancellor Michael Gunn said: "We are aware of the site. But we are not involved in any discussions with the council over it."
He stressed the university was just looking at options at this stage and it would be another 12 months before a final decision is made over the Beaconside campus, in Stafford. The review comes as universities across the UK are facing tougher competition to attract students.
Professor Gunn said: "With all the changes in higher education funding, and the consequences of that, this is the right time to have a new estate strategy. If we are going to invest in our estate, we have to make sure we are doing the right thing. It's about the student experience."
Between £30 million and £90 million could be spent on the university's buildings over the next few years, with some refurbished and others built from scratch.
The University Quarter has already benefited from major investment.
There are currently around 17,000 Staffordshire University students based across sites in Stoke, Stafford, Lichfield and Shrewsbury.
Shutting Beaconside could mean transferring 3,500 full-time students and more than 400 staff to Stoke.
Engineering courses are already being relocated later this year.
Other subjects which could be affected include computing, technology and health-related courses.
Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy said he would be fighting 'tooth and nail' to keep a university presence in the town. But the prospect of major investment in Stoke has been welcomed by the city's MPs. Tristram Hunt, whose Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency includes the Leek Road and College Road university sites, said: "The more students, researchers, academics, and businesses the better. From a Stoke-on-Trent perspective, it's nothing but great news. But it's a difficult issue, both for the university and for Stafford."
Two-thirds of all Staffordshire University's full-time students are already based in Stoke and many go on to create their own graduate businesses locally.
As the council looks to move its HQ out of Stoke to Hanley's Central Business District, there have been fears it could become a ghost town.
But campaigners from Save Our Stoke believe a massive increase in students would not be the right solution. Richard Snell, aged 66, from Stoke, said: "We don't have the facilities and infrastructure. It seems totally impractical."