Multi-million pound proposals to build a university campus in Lynn have been boosted by the backing of a government minister.
As first reported in the Lynn News last month, the College of West Anglia has submitted an application to build a £6.5 million higher education centre on its site in the town.
Now, universities minister David Willetts has called for new measures to be drawn up to help plug the education gap in areas such as West Norfolk.
And college principal David Pomfret said: “We are pleased that the government has recognised the need for more university centres across the country to widen opportunities for people to access higher level study and training.
“The proportion of the working age population qualified to level four (certificates of higher education) and above in West Norfolk lags significantly behind the England average.
“There is ample evidence to show that the availability of higher level skills is a key ingredient for a successful local and regional economy.”
In a letter to the Higher Education Funding Council, the body responsible for distributing government support to English universities, Mr Willetts said there were recognised “cold spots” in the country’s higher education provision.
He wrote: “Work the council has previously done has identified areas in the south west and East Anglia. More recently, some Local Enterprise Partnerships have identified an absence of tertiary provision as a brake on local growth in some coastal areas.
“I would like you to propose new approaches to encourage coherent offers in areas where there is demand for this provision.”
Education experts say the letter, and the move to scrap limits on the numbers of students institutions can recruit from next year, is the biggest expansion in university provision for more than two decades.
And government officials argue that Lynn could follow the path of cities like Lincoln and Worcester, whose economies are reported to have been boosted by tens of millions of pounds since universities were established there.
College leaders say their planned development, which would include a 120-seat lecture theatre and 14 classrooms, could accommodate up to 500 students.
They expect the building would double the number of students taking degree courses in Lynn, from 200 to 400, within three years.
Mr Pomfret said the college would be bidding for funding from the New Anglia and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), which both cover the West Norfolk area.
He added: “With a clear focus on higher-level skills the University Centre West Anglia will work closely with local employers to identify labour market needs across the priority economic sectors and to address these needs via appropriate higher-level education and training.
“It will provide young people and adults of the area with new opportunities for progression in learning and skills directly related to the requirements of the local and regional economy.”