December 2018 Breakfast

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The pledge from the leaders behind the proposed ‘new model’ university, MK:U, is to produce a new breed of graduates, with the right blend of skills, to specifically help Milton Keynes businesses reach their full potential.

At a recent MKBLP meeting, Professor Lynette Ryals, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at Cranfield University and Programme Director for MK:U, unveiled further plans for the university, which is set to be developed within the heart of Milton Keynes.

Professor Ryals outlined her ambitions for MK:U to become a fully fledged, average sized university by 2038, with a student population of 15,000 - with the first wave of undergraduates arriving in 2023.

In a move away from the more established university system, MK:U will not offer traditional courses, opting for a syllabus designed around the 21st Century business needs. A large proportion of this will be framed around the digital economy, and entrepreneurship, with plans to create a ‘living laboratory’ for students to work on real projects within MK businesses, enhancing their employability and life skills. “Our intention is to use the whole of Milton Keynes, not just the MK:U campus, as an experimental test bed for new technologies.”

“We are designing our education around the jobs MK business leaders want and need.”

Referencing Santander’s £150m investment in Milton Keynes by creating a UK technology hub, boosting the Government’s vision of the Cambridge-Milton-Keynes Arc, Professor Ryals emphasised the need for graduates with greater digital ability. While Data Science will make up a significant proportion of the university framework, Business and Entrepreneurship will also feature highly, with additional plans to become an ‘incubator’ for new businesses - offering accommodation and work space to entrepreneurs, in a bid to accelerate business growth in the City.

The Arts will also play a pivotal role, particularly as 100’s of small businesses within the Cambridge-Milton-Keynes Arc are engaging in CGI’s and virtual reality. “We are developing MK:U within the Arc strategy.”

Reinforcing its commitment to providing an educational framework which will meet the future needs of Milton Keynes businesses, Professor Ryals also announced that they would be running regular think tanks with local companies as part of the course development – the first of which will take place early this year.

Offering flexible learning, from the conventional three year full time course to the apprentice route, MK:U is set to appeal to the new breed of ‘commuter student’ particularly with its close proximity to transport links. “We believe that we can reach a potential catchment of 20 million students within an hour’s commute of Milton Keynes.”

However, the driving force for attracting students appears to be closer to home with plans already afoot to develop links, and higher education pathways, with local education providers, including MK College.

“As a new city, Milton Keynes has a high proportion of school age population, with a very high propensity of students who go onto to university - 75% as opposed to the national average of 50%. Couple this with the shift in students preferring to study from home due to rising university costs, we believe that, in just five years time, MK:U will be a viable option in the higher education decision making process.”

To meet this objective, Professor Ryals pointed out the ‘significant amount’ of hard work going on behind the scenes, and laid out the proposed timeline which will see a final decision on the feasibility of MK:U being decided at the end of 2019.