A higher education institution being set up by ex-Manchester United footballers and Lancaster University will challenge “the idea that high performance just comes from wealth”, while profit should not be a “dirty word” in education, according to Gary Neville.
Mr Neville is one of the “Class of 92” establishing University Academy 92, alongside his brother Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt. Partners in the venture include Lancaster, which will award degrees at the institution, and technology giant Microsoft.
The institution will have a campus in the Manchester borough of Trafford, which is also home to Manchester United’s stadium, and will offer courses in business, media and sport – with “character development” at their core.
Mr Neville – whose 602 appearances for Manchester United, 85 England caps and 3.85 million Twitter followers make him one of football’s biggest names – told Times Higher Education that the institution would have academic “credibility”.
“You’re not going to come to UA92 and Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt are going to throw you over some sort of little shoddy piece of paper, saying ‘there you go, you’ve got a qualification’,” he said.
“This is going to be a high-quality degree [from] one of the best-performing universities in the country [Lancaster]. That is something that gives it credibility from an academic perspective.”
Mr Neville, a TV football pundit and a hotel and property developer, said that a partnership between the non-league club Salford City – which the Class of 92 owns – and the University of Salford made him start to “think about how character development can be taught and how it should be very much at the centre of your 16-21 period in your life”.
That chimed with something that he took from his football career – the idea that you need to be a “really tough resilient individual” and to “have to have something different about you” in order to succeed.
With that in mind, UA92’s “vision” states that, in contrast to a “conventional university”, it will “deliver a curriculum with employability and character development at the core, wrapped around by academic development”.
Asked if the institution’s students could be those who might not consider applying to a traditional university, Mr Neville described Lancaster as “a high-ranking university, but 90 per cent of its student intake are from state schools; so it’s inclusive”.
He added: “The idea that high performance just comes from wealth is wrong…We [UA92] need to be proof of that, that ultimately we can make people a success that haven’t necessarily got the highest level of academic qualification or haven’t got a wealthy background.”
Questions have been raised about the Department for Education’s decision to allow UA92 to use the word “university” in its title (the DfE has said it did so on the grounds of Lancaster’s involvement).
UA92 does not yet formally exist (recruitment is scheduled to begin in January 2018, with courses starting in the autumn of that year) and does not have its own degree-awarding powers. So, is “university” the right word?
“It is a university,” replied Mr Neville. “We’ve got permission from the DfE to be able to use the word ‘university’…The reason we have the word ‘academy’ in there is because we’ve got a 16-18 offering as well.”
How would Mr Neville answer concerns about profits being made from education, particularly if students are entering the institution with loans provided by the government?
He replied that there were two options: either not do it, “not try and shift…education the way in which we want it to go, or we can actually do it. For us to do it and for it to be successful it has to be profitable. Profit is not a dirty word; we shouldn’t shy away from it.”