UP to four new universities could be built in the West Midlands in a bid to provide opportunities for young people and to boost the economy.

The region’s existing academic powerhouses, including Birmingham University, Aston University and Birmingham City University, could be joined by new colleges in Sandwell, Dudley, Herefordshire and Shropshire.

The four local authorities are hoping to receive a share of £150 million allocated by the Government to build universities across the country.

It is likely new colleges would be managed and accredited by existing universities, so that graduates received degrees awarded by well-established institutions. However, they would be able to study locally, making it easier for people to obtain a university education.

Sandwell is working with Birmingham City University on plans for a new university building in West Bromwich town centre.

Herefordshire council is in talks with the University of Worcester, while Shropshire is talking to a number of local universities and colleges.

Government agencies and the regional minister, Ian Austin (Lab Dudley North), have highlighted increasing the number of graduates in the West Midlands as one of the key challenges facing the region.

Currently, 26 per cent of the workforce in the West Midlands has a degree or equivalent qualification, compared with 30 per cent in England as a whole.

Across the country, 27 councils have expressed an interested in establishing new higher education centres.

Up to 20 will eventually be successful, creating 10,000 new university places.

Innovation secretary John Denham said: “In these challenging economic times never have universities and colleges been more important to education, economic development, regeneration and the cultural life of our rural areas, towns and cities.

“It is my ambition to build on the successes of the last few years which have seen new centres of higher education transforming local economies and the lives of local people.”

The Higher Education Funding Council will work with authorities to help them draw up formal bids next year.

The West Midland’s Skills Action Plan had a target to increase the graduate numbers recruited by the areas’s businesses by a quarter within four years.