CORNISH colleges have launched a campaign to persuade school-leavers to stay in the county, as last week's A-level results marked the start of the region's annual brain-drain.
The colleges are promoting the small but growing number of higher education courses in Cornwall in the hope of establishing a university in the county.
More than 50 per cent of Cornish sixth-formers go on to HE but without a local university nine out of 10 emigrate to the rest of Britain. Few return on graduation, and Cornish community leaders see that as a root cause of the county's lack of prosperity.
Cornwall has been recognised by the European Union as one of the most deprived areas of Europe - its gross domestic product is less than three-quarters of the average for the union. The EU is to give the county a pound;750 million boost over the next seven years.
Cornwall's traditional industries have collapsed - the tin mines have closed, china clay mining has problems, fishing and farming are in decline, and the tourist industry remains fragile. A university is seen as a key part of the infrastructure to attract new industry.
It had been hoped the county's higher education needs would be met with an pound;80m campus proposed by Exeter University vice-chancellor Sir eGeoffrey Holland. But the county council now believes the plans are doomed because the county has no large centres of population.
"Without a university, Cornwall will always be second best to other counties when we look for inward investment," said Professor Alan Livingston, principal of Falmouth College of Arts.
"Without highly-qualified staff, research facilities, conference facilities and the like, some of the bigger companies will look to Devon or other counties."
Feasibility studies show that a university could have up to 10,000 students, but it is likely to be 10 years before a university is formally opened.
The strategy for the next five years is to give Cornish school-leavers the choice of continuing their studies at home, by expanding the range of courses available from Exeter and Plymouth universities through local further education colleges and the Camborne School of Mines.
The Higher Education Funding Council has already allocated extra places from September 1999 - the campaign's target is 7,000 students by 2004 against the 1,000-odd at present in Cornwall.