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The University of Chester and Shropshire Council are strengthening their joint commitment to developing inclusive higher education and skills in the county, with proposals as a partnership to extend academic provision at University Centre Shrewsbury (UCS) and give a welcome boost to the post-COVID economy.

The two organisations established UCS in 2014 to address the higher education deficit in Shropshire, identified by the UK Government. In doing so, they have created diverse opportunities for learners at all levels, residents and businesses alike. Universities deliver demonstrable economic benefits to their locations, and UCS brings students in to learn, live, work and spend money in Shrewsbury town centre and encourages graduates to stay in the area.

A meeting of the full council on Thursday, February 25 will be asked to seek the consent of Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to enter into a new property lease, allowing Guildhall in Shrewsbury to continue as a teaching and learning venue for University Centre Shrewsbury (UCS).

Continued growth in UCS – including attracting more international students - is directly linked to the planned increase in inward investment and regeneration plans for the town and county as a whole. It will help retain talent, solve skills gaps and contribute to the visitor economy, elements which form part of the Shrewsbury Big Town Plan.

Despite COVID-19, student applications – including those from overseas markets - are increasing at the University of Chester, which is the ‘parent’ institution for UCS. A new business case looks to expand numbers at UCS, with significant growth areas in the curriculum including health and sustainability.

Shropshire Council has demonstrated its commitment to the project by investing in high quality student accommodation for UCS at Mardol House, which welcomed its first students in September 2015 and Tannery East block receiving its first cohort of students in September 2019.

Professor Eunice Simmons, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Chester, said: “Following the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, the need for well-educated, highly-qualified, employable people will be greater than ever to get communities back on their feet.

“We are fully committed to working with Shropshire Council to deliver sustained higher education opportunities, which in turn will bring economic, cultural and social benefits.”

Professor Paul Johnson, Head of UCS, said: “We are very much looking forward to continuing our partnership with Shropshire Council to grow the offer at UCS and to attract and retain talent in the Shropshire area. There has never been a more vital time for higher education as we look to rebuild the economy post-COVID with strong curriculum offers in key areas such as health and sustainability.”

Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for Assets, Economic Growth and Regeneration, said:

“The rationale for University Centre Shrewsbury was to ensure that Shropshire had a stronger higher education and skills offer for the county.

“Universities can also deliver economic benefits to the place in which they operate which has been seen with UCS students studying, living, working and spending money in Shrewsbury town centre.”

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