Students will need entertainment venues

TODAY our priority is to get up and running, and to lay the foundations and infrastructure which will serve the new institution well for years to come.

TODAY our priority is to get up and running, and to lay the foundations and infrastructure which will serve the new institution well for years to come.

All major projects go through a period where the focus is on the short term. This is certainly true at University Campus Suffolk. We - as well as colleagues at Suffolk New College - are working through the details of planning permissions for both projects in the Education Quarter, the problems of transport and accommodation, the details of the courses we are going to teach and the support for the new students we will be attracting.

There seems a big responsibility to future generations of students to get it right now because any mistakes might be magnified further down the line! Sometimes though, it is worth lifting our eyes in to the future - say ten years - and making guesses about what we will look like and the role we will play in the town and county.

We need to have a pretty fair idea about what we are building here, if the decisions we are making now are to make any sense at all.

So here is my prediction for the future, partly based on detailed planning, partly on educated guesses and partly on the crystal ball method.

Well in 2016 I reckon that UCS will have around 8,000 students and about 6,500 will be here in Ipswich. Now without being too technical, that figure is what we call 'fulltime equivalent' - basically part time students count as a half - and as I hope we will have plenty of part time students mixing work and study I think we could guess that there will be around 8,500 to 9,000 university students in town. About half of these will be from Suffolk, so there will be 4,000 or so from outside the county.

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This will be important for Suffolk as we currently have a brain drain with more bright kids leaving the area than we can bring back in.

This will be in balance in ten years time, with the level of joiners being around the same as the leavers, bringing an increased short term funding for the county. Students spend lots of cash when they are at university, ask any parent - and long term prosperity as they settle in the area and bring a more educated and skilled workforce.

There will be halls of residence around the Education Quarter in town, to house the new students.

This will be particularly important for the students we are attracting from overseas. We expect about 500 students from outside the UK and EU, each one bringing about £20,000 a year into the Ipswich economy.

Where will they come from? Across the globe, but the best guess would be that the largest groups are going to come from China, India and South America.

What about staff? Well we would expect to employ over 2,000 staff by then. Professors and teachers of course, but also student advisers, staff to look after the buildings and campus, managers for finance, human resources and so on, cleaners, marketing staff and dozens of other occupations. UCS will offer real, new jobs in the centre of Ipswich.

All these staff and students will need places to live, eat drink, shop and be entertained. So there will be an explosion of new facilities not just for UCS staff and students but for the whole town. I expect that Ipswich in 2016 will be a different, better and more interesting place to live and work.

So does this thriving new Ipswich depend on the success of UCS and do we need all these new students? Well, almost certainly yes. Growing economies will depend on knowledge, information and technology. There is simply no future for towns and regions with a low skill, low wage base as there will always be someone, somewhere in the world who can make it cheaper.

In future Ipswich will survive and prosper on the strength of its innovation and knowledge. So one of the key things that will determine in 2016 whether we have been successful is if we have widened access to higher education among those groups of society which have not traditionally been to university.

If we do succeed we will see a big improvement in the overall achievement of the local population which in turn will lead to a more affluent and successful Ipswich.

It is a good reason for looking up from the immediate problems, and reminding ourselves why we set out on this venture, and why UCS is so important to Ipswich and Suffolk.

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