A prospectus for British Aerospace's "virtual university" should emerge in the late spring and the venture is on schedule for launch late this year, says its vice-chancellor Geraldine Kenney-Wallace.
The BAe university aims to offer continuous learning programmes ranging from NVQs to PhDs to the aerospace giant's 44,000 employees, in partnership with universities and further education colleges.
Revealing latest developments on the road to its creation, Dr Kenney-Wallace said her team had completed a review of existing BAe education, training and research links with more than 80 universities. She said: "There is a huge amount of activity already with universities, and it will probably be a question of aligning, reaffirming and strengthening this activity and linking it to research rather than saying anything is off the agenda. We will honour existing arrangements and contracts."
The review will help to integrate the activities into the three faculties of the BAe university: engineering and manufacturing, learning, and international business. She said: "But this does not mean we will manage all these activities. Some activities we will lead on, with others we will be in support mode."
Dr Kenney-Wallace has met dozens of vice-chancellors and visited faculties with strong teaching and research links with BAe. "We are very pleased with the flexible, cooperative and enthusiastic response we have received from departments."
Traditional universities, she said, have nothing to fear from the initiative. "We are not going to be a competitor I that is not the point at all. What we want is to work with them, and if they are flexible and cooperative in designing something we want for our employees, which nobody else has, we can do business."
She has received a lot of letters from university faculties anxious for a role in the BAe initiative. "It should not be seen as a threat. It is in no way a substitute for traditional universities - we are doing two different things. I am not the core business of BAe, and what universities do with us is not their core business. It is about working at the interface and complementing each other to everyone's benefit."
Dr Kenney-Wallace stressed that the virtual university is part of BAe's business strategy for competitiveness against a fast-changing aerospace industry that is undergoing massive restructuring on both sides of the Atlantic. "We want to be prepared for the future. We need critical and creative thinkers and doers who are not only well prepared and skilled in their discipline but can take all of that and deliver it into the value of BAe business across the board."
The university will not be seeking its own accrediting powers. It aims to work with those agencies, professional institutions, universities and further education colleges that already have that authority.
The BAe university will have about 25 staff and hundreds more could be involved - staff and student exchanges with traditional universities are planned. Three top BAe staff have been appointed as deans of the three faculties. Clive Richardson, until recently commercial director of Airbus, is to head the international business faculty Simon Howison former chief engineer of the Tornado aircraft, will be in charge of engineering and manufacturing technology. Ian Grant, ex-personnel director of BAe SEMA, a naval systems joint venture with the French, is to be dean of learning.