EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett will this week receive a petition backing Bolton Institute's campaign for university status before a last-ditch meeting with its principal and chairman of governors. Yesterday the petition was handed to the town's three MPs who are now forwarding it to the man whose final recommendation will be the key to whether and how soon the higher accolade is given. Bolton South East MP Brian Iddon said that he and his colleagues David Crausby and Ruth Kelly were awaiting a date for the meeting with the Secretary of State.

They hope that principal Bob Oxtoby and governors chairman Brian Bruce will be able to persuade Mr Blunkett to recommend university status to the Privy Council.

Bolton North East MP Mr Crausby is sending the petition to Mr Blunkett and Bolton West's Ruth Kelly is to remind the Education Secretary of his election campaign promise to grant the status if justified.

The activity at Westminster is just part of a major campaign launched by governors who fear that Mr Blunkett is about to turn down the college's bid to become a university.

The fear follows a report by the Quality Assurance Agency which highlighted weaknesses in Theatre and Film Studies - which accounts for just one per cent of the college's work.

Professor Oxtoby said he had heard hints that there could be a "no" decision and was hoping to use the campaign to stress the college's virtues.

On Saturday the Premier League match between Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday will become the focus for the fight.

Club mascot Lofty the Lion will help students release 1,000 balloons from the centre spot before the kick off and celebrities will be asked to support the bid.

Dr Iddon said: "I am sure the institute will get university status eventually, but it deserves to get it now."

Councillors will be asked to back the campaign at a meeting of the full council tomorrow night. The petition was presented to Dr Iddon and Mrs Crausby outside the Commons by lecturers Tom Killen and Chris the campaign when councillors will be asked to give the go-ahead for the local authority to write to Education Secretary David Blunkett. The three Bolton MPs are lobbying hard for university status. The institute deserves it; it has a high standing in this country and abroad.

"It is hoped that Mr Blunkett, who represents a constituency in Sheffield and supports Wednesday, may attend so he can be lobbied by the MPs, Mr Oxtoby and the governors. Professor Oxtoby praised Bolton Wanderers for supporting the institute and said it would help staff demonstrate support from within the town to Mr Blunkett.

He added: "The granting of university title is very important not only to the Institute but to the people of Bolton. The whole community will benefit from having a university in the town.

"We are university in everything but name and we are urging the Secretary of State to rectify this situation as a matter of urgency."

Cllr Bob Howarth, Bolton Council leader, who will put forward the motion supporting the campaign, said: "The institute has asked for a special campaign and we are only too happy to support it."

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