ONE of the county’s biggest ever fundraising efforts starts this week – with a target of £20m in two years.

Working that total is a challenge for the Founders Fund crucial to making a university in the county happen.

The New University for Herefordshire (NUH) project is hosting a lunch for 100 individuals, business and organizations at the  Royal National College for the Blind, Hereford, on Friday.

So far, the project has received pledges worth £150k.

NUH project team leader Karen Usher said the same techniques were adopted by the founders of “the great universities” like Bristol or Leeds of over a century ago.

“Over the next 18-24 months we shall be raising up to £20million,” she said.

The Founders’ Fund will push NUH towards taking students by 2017.

Guest speaker at Friday's lunch is GlaxoSmithKline CEO Sir Andrew Witty, in the county to meet with the NUH project team and  discuss economic development with council and business leaders.

Sir Andrew advocates universities as instigators for economic growth and outlined his ideas in a report to government Encouraging an Invention Revolution.

“The UK has an extraordinary wealth of ideas, technology and human energy, much of which is world-leading and capable of seeding not just new companies but whole industries with potential to build substantial export positions,” said Sir Andrew.

“Herefordshire is a microcosm of that. Universities have an extraordinary potential to enhance economic growth which is why I am delighted to encourage the Herefordshire team to pursue their ambitious plans with maximum vigor.

"Universities – and I am sure Herefordshire will be no different – have a key role to play from local SME and supply chain support to primary technology leadership and breakthrough inventions.

“LEPs have up to €1 billion of European Structural and Investment Funds to invest in innovation. I urge them to direct a large share of innovation funding towards excellent universities and research centres in order to nurture sustainable growth founded in comparative advantage, and supporting innovative SMEs in their localities,” he said.

Herefordshire Council is ready to free up millions of pounds worth of land and buildings for NUH with six "start up" sites for student accommodation, administration and teaching identified.

Talks start soon on offering the sites to NUH at less than full market value if not transferred under lease.

In March, the full council passed a resolution backing the university project with time limited options on land and buildings seen as the most practical offer.

The forward plan values Franklin House and Blueschool House at £800k and £500k respectively with consent needed from Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) which has an interest in both sites.

One of the most progressive and highly rated universities in the USA could also be a key project partner.

NUH has opened talks with senior faculty at the Franklin W Olin College of Engineering, Massachusetts, recognised for its pioneering undergraduate engineering programme and informal approach to academia.

Already leading US institutions Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have been advising NUH on structure, governance and administration.