The National Health Service University intends to become Britain's first corporate university, transforming not only the culture of the NHS but also lifelong learning, it was pledged this week, writes Claire Sanders.
It will also have a significant research programme.
Speaking at the launch of its development plan, Learning for Everyone , health minister John Hutton said: "We will open up opportunities for learning and qualification to those many thousands of staff who have traditionally been excluded from post-school learning. We want to open up pathways to the very top of the healthcare professions."
Details have yet to be finalised but it is understood that the NHSU will have an annual budget of £80 million.
The plan says: "NHSU aspires, in time, to become the first 'corporate university' in this country, and one of the first in the world to be awarded the full title and status of a university."
The Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Department for Education and Skills will set up a joint working group to consider "criteria, processes and timescale" by which the NHSU should seek university status. The group will include the Department of Health and Universities UK.
But while the development plan refers to the NHSU, a response from UUK pointedly puts the "u" in lower case. Sir Martin Harris, chair of the UUK health committee, said: "The NHSu commitment to lifelong learning, as evinced by the NHSu development plan, is good news for patients, as well as staff. We in universities look forward to working with the NHSu to meet this commitment and to support delivery of the NHS plan."
Bob Fryer, chief executive of the NHSU, stressed that the university would work in partnership with other universities and the NHS to improve patient care. It has already signed strategic alliances with the Open University, Ufi/learndirect and UK e-Universities plc. He said it would transform lifelong learning and widening participation through an expansion of foundation degrees and junior scholarships.
"Anyone working for the NHS, who does not already possess a higher education qualification, will have the opportunity to follow an NHSU learning pathway towards the attainment of a foundation degree," the plan promises.
The plan also proposes a nationwide scheme of NHSU Junior Scholarships for 13, 14 and 15-year-olds and school-leavers, working through the 28 Workforce Development Confederations.
"We envisage each WDC offering 100 a year, which would mean about 3,000 junior scholarships every year. The WDCs could focus on the areas in which they have skills shortages. The funding may be linked to educational maintenance allowances," Mr Fryer said.
Every learner following an NHSU programme would be assigned a "learning facilitator" to provide individual support. Mr Fryer said: "We understand that this has huge staffing implications, which is why we are looking at the role of e-learning."
The NHSU has already begun working on courses, including an induction programme for all staff and a communication-skills programme. It will establish a Learning Needs Observatory, which will compile regional and national profiles of skills shortages across the NHS.
It may also develop its own credit framework. In addition, it is negotiating to take over the planning, management and support of health and social care research, currently under the DoH's research, analysis and information directorate.