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Development plans for a future University of Warwick campus and surrounding community.

Courtesy of University Development Trust

A British university plans to build a 6,000-student campus just outside Sacramento.

The University of Warwick announced on Thursday that it has entered into a partnership with the University Development Trust, a nonprofit organization that is providing land and funding for the endeavor. Warwick plans to begin by offering graduate degrees in a temporary location before building new teaching facilities and expanding into undergraduate education; the aim is to develop a campus on farmland in California’s Placer County with capacity for 6,000 students by 2031.

If realized, it will be Warwick’s first overseas branch campus and one of only a handful of international branch campuses on American soil -- though it’s worth noting that Warwick’s would-be neighbor to the west, the University of California at Berkeley, has embarked on its own effort to recruit foreign universities to participate in a proposed new global educational hub in the Bay Area

“We’re going for this,” said Peter Dunn, a spokesman for Warwick. “We really do think it’s ambitious. We don’t think there’s another British university that is coming to North America or is in North America to such an extent.”

Drexel University, in Philadelphia, had originally planned to construct an undergraduate campus on the same plot of land in Placer County before backing out in 2011 for financial reasons. (Drexel does have a different campus location in downtown Sacramento.) A Drexel spokeswoman, Niki Gianakaris, said Thursday that “[t]he economic environment at that time and the significant financial commitment that would have been necessary to build a campus made moving forward with the project unfeasible.” 

The plan to build a Drexel campus in greater Sacramento had also been opposed by environmental groups concerned about sprawl. Local Sierra Club representatives did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Thursday afternoon. 

“This property has had a couple different universities take a look at it and be in conversations,” said Michael Faust, the president of MEF Consulting and a spokesman for the University Development Trust. The 1,159-acre plot was given to the trust by a group of donors including the Angelo K. and Sofia Tsakopoulos family, William and Claudia Cummings, and the Wayne L. Prim family.

The plan, Faust explained, is that the trust will sell 559 acres of land for a mix of commercial and residential development and use the proceeds from those sales to fund the development of the campus on the remaining 600 acres.

“We’re also committed -- we being University Development Trust -- we’re committed to stay in it in the long run and help them to do fund-raising and capital development well down the road,” said Faust.

Warwick had previously contemplated building a campus in Singapore but opted against it because of concerns about its financial sustainability (faculty there have also raised concerns about academic freedom issues in the city-state). By contrast, Dunn said Warwick officials are confident that in the case of California “the numbers stack up.”

“Our due diligence tells us that this will work,” said Dunn. “We are confident these are like-minded people [at University Development Trust] that we can work with. They share the ambition with us; it fits with our strategy.”

In a written statement, Warwick’s vice chancellor and president, Nigel Thrift, described the California campus as an opportunity that “draws on, and builds on, Warwick’s academic success and its successful strategy to develop as a globally networked university.” Warwick has an extensive partnership with Monash University, in Australia, and is the only European university involved in a new research center in New York City focused on urban issues.

“This fits very much with our own story here,” said Dunn. “We are celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. Fifty years ago the land I am standing on at this minute was a farm. We transformed that from being farmland to being one of the U.K.’s top 10 research universities by any league table that you look at” (not any league table, to be sure, but Warwick cites a number of different top 10 rankings as points of pride).

“We believe we can create the same success story in California.”

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