Cranfield UniversityCranfield launches new kind of university in Milton Keynes

Cranfield launches new kind of university in Milton Keynes

MK:U, a new university in Milton Keynes, will prepare students for the digital future through applied learning and close partnerships with business

Milton Keynes is currently the largest urban area in the UK without its own university. But this won’t be the case for much longer. A new-model university, called MK:U, is set to open in the city this year, becoming a hub for innovation and digital skills development for more than 15,000 students. “This is a new kind of university in a new city,” explains Lynette Ryals, CEO of MK:U.

Ryals has high expectations for MK:U, hoping it will become the “MIT for the UK”, producing digitally savvy graduates who can apply their learning to the future world of work. MK:U is being built in partnership with a range of employers with a local footprint, including Santander, Grant Thornton and Rockwell Automation.

It is also receiving academic support from Cranfield University, a postgraduate institution specialising in science, engineering, design, technology and management. “We will not offer the usual spectrum of traditional courses, instead looking at new technologies, playing into skills gaps and looking towards the jobs of tomorrow,” Ryals says. “We want to design an education system from the ground up that connects with the world of work.”

Milton Keynes is a smart city and has become a pioneer in big data and transport innovation, such as its robot delivery vehicles, which brought food to residents during the pandemic. Reflecting its forward-thinking status, MK:U will launch an innovation hub in March 2022, which will include a small business scale-up programme, a high-technology “makerspace” and advanced communications laboratory.

Its location in the heart of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc means it is well positioned for growth. “This is such an innovative spot for entrepreneurship and small business formation,” says Ryals. “We want to help small businesses scale up and make the leap towards commercialising their products and moving forward.” The hub will give small businesses access to testing equipment and communications technology that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for them to invest in at such an early stage.

The pedagogical approach at MK:U is to “flip the system” and begin by assessing what employers want and then design the curriculum around it. The bedrock of the initial curriculum will be four level 6 degree apprenticeships created in partnership with employers. The subjects will be data science, digital technology, management and cybersecurity.

Alongside the technical skills that will support graduates entering employment, students will take a common module that aims to build professional and interpersonal skills such as time management and dealing with clients. Rather than traditional exams, teams will work together on problems and will be assessed on this so they apply their learning from day one.

Furthermore, degree apprenticeship students will study alongside the innovation hub, allowing them to gain a taste for the start-up experience and support these businesses with their own skills.

MK:U is now looking for an innovation hub manager to drive its success. Ryals says this should be “someone energetic and enthusiastic – good with small business but who knows the technology side of things”. That person will be comfortable with the rapidly changing environment of a university that’s doing something different and enjoy working with local partners and academics alike. “We’re going through this as a start-up in our own right,” she concludes. “We want it to deliver real economic impact to the area, producing real growth and generating jobs.”

Find out more about MK:U and the innovation hub manager vacancy.

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