THE Open University's 15-acre campus in Boars Hill has gone up for sale and is expected to fetch £7m.

Foxcombe Hall and grounds have been home to the long-distance learning institution for 40 years.

The sale is part of the OU’s long-term strategy to close seven regional centres, including Oxford, and focus on three larger student recruitment and support facilities in Manchester, Milton Keynes and Nottingham.

OU teaching and admin staff will move out of Foxcombe Hall by May next year.

The package includes the 19th century hall, a lodge and Old Dairy plus formal Italian gardens, terraces and a lake.

Agents say it is unlikely to go to a single, private buyer and is more likely to appeal to buyers or developers in the commercial or education fields.

It could also be redeveloped and turned into a luxury hotel or care home, subject to planning permission.

Mark Charter, head of agents Carter Jonas in Oxford, which is handling the sale, said: "This is only the second property of this nature during my 25-year career that I have dealt with.

"We sold Yarnton Manor three years ago, which was not dissimilar, but I can’t think of any other properties like Foxcombe Hall."

As the Boars Hill site is green belt land, planners might be reluctant to grant permission for new homes.

Mr Charter added: "We think there is a strong chance that the purchaser could get planning permission for conversion of existing units but the prospects are more limited for new ones."

Carter Jonas has already had a number of "early approaches from people who are very interested".

The Hall includes almost 39,000 sq ft of offices, meeting and teaching rooms.

It once belonged to the 8th Earl of Berkeley, who added a stone banqueting hall with vaulted ceiling, a tower with views towards the ‘Dreaming Spires’ and a west wing.

It was bought by Ripon theological College in the 1930s, before being sold to the OU in 1976.

Mr Charter pointed out: "Foxcombe Hall is a beautiful house in the exclusive Boars Hill area that will appeal to private buyers, international investors, education, hotel and care home operators, and developers, who are looking to own a piece of history, while having the opportunity to enhance the plot, subject to the necessary planning consents."

Peter Horrocks, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said: "This is an important decision for the university and its students as it means we can now introduce much-needed improvements to our student support services - something which simply isn’t possible across dispersed, smaller offices.

"No local services to students, including individual support for disabled students, will be withdrawn, however we recognise the impact this will have on affected staff.

"Our priority is to maintain and improve services for our hard-working students while supporting our staff as we start to implement these changes."