Higher Education: After pit closures: will wisdom aid recovery?

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The Independent Online
THE DEARNE Valley, a 20 square mile area of mining villages in south Yorkshire, has been devastated by the decline of the coal industry - eight pits have been closed since the mid-Eighties, with the loss of 10,000 jobs, and unemployment has soared to one in four in many parts.

British Coal's current pit closure programme will finish off what remains of the valley's traditional livelihood: a thousand miners who commute out of the valley to pits in neighbouring areas are to lose their jobs. Only one small pit on the edge of the valley will survive.

Sheffield University's proposed campus at Wath upon Dearne is the centrepiece of a plan for the area put forward by the Dearne Valley Partnership, a company set up by local councils, government agencies, industry and commerce, to regenerate the area. 'We expect it to act as catalyst to investment and development in the whole valley,' says Mike Woodcock, a spokesman for the company.

The new campus would create a thousand support jobs - one quarter of the target for the company's first five-year plan - as well as providing many short-term construction jobs. Part of a pounds 37.5m City Challenge grant to the company from the Department of the Environment may be channelled into the campus and a rail-road interchange to service it.

The scheme is unusual in that it focuses on a university as the main agent of economic recovery and regeneration in a deprived area. The plan is a bold one, given that educational attainment among the valley's children is below the national average and demand for higher education in the area has traditionally been low. But representatives of the mining communities who sit on the board of the Dearne Valley Partnership report great enthusiasm for the university college. The company is working closely with Training and Enterprise Councils to ensure that local people are offered training that is appropriate to the new opportunities.