A fully fledged university for Dumfries is "unrealistic" but a "satellite" college would retain students in the south-west and counter rural poverty and disadvantage, the conference was told.
Robert Higgins, supporting the proposal for a University of Southern Scotland, said new technologies made it possible to develop opportunities "with no baggage and with a break from traditional methods of learning". Within 10 years there could be a student population of 4,000 full-time equivalents, creating 1,000 teaching and ancillary jobs, and generating Pounds 100 million for the local economy.
Alasdair Morgan, national secretary and prospective parliamentary challenger to Ian Lang in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, said: "The effect of spreading the whole of the university across the south of Scotland is vital to the economy. Some of the highest areas of unemployment in Scotland are in Sanquhar, Kirkconnel and Stranraer."
Labour was condemned for the "most disgusting betrayal of all" over student grants. Delegates pledged to scrap student loans, restore grants to 1990 levels and bring back benefits.
Andrew Welsh, parliamentary spokesman on education and MP for Angus, said: "I do not want to see the fragmented, socially divided, elitist English system visited on our country."