Doncaster could have a major university centre at the heart of a town centre student quarter.

The procession for the Doncaster College graduation 2015. Picture: Andrew Roe
The procession for the Doncaster College graduation 2015. Picture: Andrew Roe

Doncaster could soon have a major university centre at the heart of a town centre student quarter.

It is among proposals which are being discussed by a working party of education leaders across the borough in a bid to beef up Doncaster's status as a students centre, with some pushing for a new dedicated university building in the town centre.

The talks are moving towards closer ties between existing higher education providers in the boroiugh, and to increase the number of graduates in the borough by around 25,000 by 2028.

Discussions involve a steering group which includes Doncaster College, Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals, the National College for High Speed Rail, and 360 Degree Media, the organisation behind the planned film studio at High Melton, and Doncaster Council.

There is understood to be a will among those involved to create a shared core of student facilities in the town centre, which would include joint student residences, and shared student welfare buildings such as a student union.

The whole offer of courses would be based around the needs of local employers, and would be designed to be unique to Doncaster. Leaders predict it will lead to an influx of students from outside the borough, and from abroad, in addition to providing an option for local youngsters.

Assistant director of strategy and performance at Doncaster Council, Lee Tillman, said: "We are at the vision stage at present. We think Doncaster has some really strong foundations to build on with the National College for High Speed Rail, Doncaster College, 360 Degree Media at High Melton and the teaching hospital.

"The teaching hospital has 2,000 students already. We need to build on those assets and shout about them. It is possible to study in higher education here in Doncaster and not have to leave the borough.

"Linking to that we're doing work to make sure what we have in Doncaster is greater than the sum of their parts. We're doing work towards a prospectus about what you can do here, and making sure that is visible and accessible across the borough.

"We are looking to do it linked to the growth of the economy, and looking at the skills and real needs of the local economy."

Officials have already run some consultation with business leaders over their plans, with 87 per cent of respondents support the ambition for a university town.

The next phase is to take the ideas on the road, and put them to parents and potential students, as well as schools and colleges.That is planned to happen in the next few months, starting in the autumn.

The suggestions on the table are also expected to offer a boost to the town centre.

The town centre suffered a blow recently when House of Fraser closed its Doncaster store, and work has been ongoing to try to regenerate the town centre. A masterplan has been drawn up to improve several areas including the station forecourt, the market, and the Silver Street / Hallgate areas.

But Mr Tillman believes the proposed student quarter will also have a spin-off effect in helping regenerate the town centre.

"If we can get this right, and build on this way of working, we will have a major boost to the town centre. it would provide more footfall, more population mix, and more young people.

"The conversations are happening, but it is at an early stage.

He said there were options for where an student quarter would be based. It has just been agreed that the planned University Technical College, for secondary school aged children, will be at Waterdale. a site near there is possible. But other options may be areas like the Waterfront, near Doncaster College, or the Marshgate area. Both are earmarked for redevelopment under the Doncaster town centre masterplan.

Hospital training boss wants 'university campus'

Doncaster can create a unique education offering that will attract students from around the world, with its own 'Doncaster university' campus.

That is the belief of Dr Alasdair Strachan, the Donaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospital Trust's director of education, who believes that working with the needs of local business can create a higher education offering no other area has.

His organisation already has strong links with Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University, through the training of doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

He is aware that Doncaster College already has around 1,000 students studying for degrees, that 360 Degrees Media plans to link with Doncaster College to train people in cinematic special effects when it opens its film studio in the former Doncaster College High Melton site, and that the National College for High Speed Rail is already educating to university level.

Dr Strachan said: "I would like us to go for a possible Doncaster campus, with students union and accommodation.

"We're under discussions about how we can deliver more health education locally. We're looking at nursing students who would do most of their training in Doncaster .We also have connections with Lincoln University.

"We are looking to base what happens in Doncaster on what businesses want. I think that could meant that 360 Media will have people travelling in internationally to come for that bespoke offer.

"We are keen to pull in students from surrounding areas and abroad.

"When you look at models of universities in other towns and cities, you see the best policy is not to do what everyone else does - you do a unique offer.

"For instance, Coventry University has a campus in Scarborough based around health and GCGQ. People are travelling from all over the country to go there.

"There is a mix of degrees at Doncaster College sponsored by Hull University. They are at Doncaster College, doing degrees in Doncaster. Further down the line, maybe we can have an independent university, but the vision is for a Doncaster University City by 2024.

"I think that by 2024 there will be a physical offer of what the university is. I'm pushing for us to have somewhere where you can walk in and say 'that's Doncaster University campus'."