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CHICAGO — State education regulators have granted the University of Illinois permission to operate its new research and innovation center in downtown Chicago for the next five years.

The Discovery Partners Institute is designed to bring together students and researchers to tackle big societal challenges and promote innovation and entrepreneurship, in partnership with industry, government and other sectors, the (Champaign) News-Gazette reported.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education last week approved the institute's launch. The university can now begin the process of hiring faculty.

Illinois has committed $500 million toward the construction of the institute and other university facilities, contingent on matching private sector funds. Gov. J.B. Pritzker hasn't provided a timeline for releasing that money.

The university said it has secured about $400 million in "non-state dollars" toward that goal.

The institute is already operating at a temporary space in downtown Chicago. An architectural firm is creating preliminary designs for the new facility in the South Loop. A rendering of the proposed building shows a multilevel structure held up by stilts, surrounded by a pond and trees.

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It's a "big step," University of Illinois President Tim Killeen said of the decision.

"Now it's an institute. It exists," he said. "It's got a space; it's got leadership; it's got faculty interest. We've got working groups; we've got partners; we can populate it, so people can put on their resume, 'I am also a member of the DPI.'"

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The goal is to serve 2,000 students by 2024, according to the proposal approved by the state board.

The institute's leaders will evaluate its effectiveness over the next five years through metrics such as the number of active partnerships, patent applications, research projects, students and faculty involved, external funding and awards received, the letter said.

A full board vote isn't required, but board authorization will be required for the institute to operate on a permanent basis going forward.

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