ROTHERHAM College promised degree tuition fees well below £9,000 as construction work officially started on its uni campus.
Council leader Cllr Chris Read performed the ceremonial sod-cutting yesterday at the former hospital site on Doncaster Gate.
College parent company RNN Group said providing access to university classes would benefit businesses as well as students.
And it pledged to offer degree courses costing much less than the £9,000 or more charged by many universities.
Chief executive John Connolly said: “The centre will provide new opportunities for those who might not have considered university as an option in the past.
“The combination of lower fees and the chance to live at home whilst studying locally will bring higher education right into the heart of Rotherham, helping to create a skills and jobs revolution in the town.”
The £10.5 million higher education campus — to be called University Centre Rotherham — will open in autumn 2018.
The 3,300m sq building includes teaching rooms, IT suites, exhibition space, open plan learning spaces, a cafe and social areas. The main contractor is Willmott Dixon.
Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership has provided £3.5 million, with RNN footing the rest.
LEP vice chairman Nigel Brewster said: “This is an important and welcome development which will help both adult students and our regional businesses.
“We have backed the funding because we know there is a skills gap in the region and we want to help address it.
“This investment in infrastructure will help companies who will be able to recruit skilled workers and grow their businesses, creating more jobs.
“It is an exciting and visionary way forward which will benefit the whole region.”
Cllr Read said: “Having a university centre is a key part of the town’s regeneration and I am delighted that it is going ahead.
“We have a skills gap in Rotherham and that is one thing that is holding the town back. But some of our people are also being held back.
“If they can get better qualifications they will be able to get better jobs, progress in their careers, increase their income and that can only be good for the town.”
Only 23 per cent of Rotherham residents have an HE qualification compared to the 36 per cent national average.
The centre will offer degrees and degree apprenticeships accredited by Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Hull.