ONE of the most progressive and highly rated universities in the USA could be a key project partner in plans for a future University of Herefordshire.

Project leader Karen Usher heads to  Massachusetts this week to open talks  with senior faculty at the Franklin W Olin College of Engineering.

A University of Herefordshire had now moved from a feasibility study to “making it happen” she said.

Olin is a private undergraduate engineering college in Needham, near Boston, founded with an endowment of 460m $US in 1997 with a curriculum built around hands-on engineering and design.

Despite its relative youth, Olin already scores highly in the USA for its undergraduate engineering programme and its informal approach to academia amongst students and faculty alike.

The Herefordshire project team saw parallels with its own proposed engineering and science based university-– with global graduate and post-graduate reach - and Olin’s success as a “start up”  re-writing the rules by which an academic institution can operate.

If preliminary talks with Olin are successful they will open up the potential for a formal partnership agreement with the Herefordshire project  later this year.

Olin strengthens the links between the county project and the USA. Already leading US institutions Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have been advising the project on structure, governance and administration.

The University of Herefordshire will take centre stage at Hay Festival next month as the case study for a major debate on the future for higher education in the UK.

Chaired by Hereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman, the panel line up – as confirmed so far – includes David Willets MO, secretary of state for education and science, Sir Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor at Bristol University, Dr David Landsman, director, Tata Ltd and Karen Usher.

In August last year the Hereford Times revealed the plan to provide the county with a university linked to some of the world’s top academic institutions by 2016.

As planned, courses would be delivered from various venues forming a countywide campus with likely locations identified in Hereford, Leominster, Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye.

Last month Herefordshire Council backed a groundbreaking motion  establishing the passing of its unwanted offices and other estate on to the project.  Support for the motion meant crucial fundraising could start in earnest.

The project was called the “most inspiring” to have come before the council.

As approved, the motion reinforces the principle of the council entering into talks with the university project over sites and estate that could be transferred - under mutually agreed terms - for campus development or made available at “peppercorn” rent.