Leeds Metropolitan University has teamed up with a private training provider to offer courses to National Health Service staff.
It is the first commercial-academic partnership in the UK aimed at meeting the new education and training needs of the NHS.
Scheidegger, Europe's largest computer training institute, has given the university £70,000 for three years to set up the Scheidegger Institute of Professional Skills Development. The institute will provide continuing professional development (CPD) courses and is expected to be self-financing after three years.
"The new institute could eventually have thousands of students," said Keith Cooper, its director, who has worked in the school of health sciences at LMU for 26 years. "All NHS students at the institute will be registered as LMU students."
In November last year the Department of Health published Working Together, Learning Together , which sets out proposals for lifelong learning within the NHS. It is a key part of the NHS Plan, published in July 2000.
Dr Cooper said: "The report made it clear that the NHS was looking for new flexible work-based courses. The establishment of the University of the NHS confirmed this - with the stress on delivering CPD in the workplace rather than bussing staff into lecture theatres."
Tom Shorrock, spokesman for the institute, said: "Scheidegger has a good track record on delivering distance-based learning with tutor support and workshops. The model is very much the Open University model.
"We see ourselves as a new university of applied learning. We now offer masters degrees that are entirely delivered in the workplace. The new courses that we will offer the NHS will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
The institute has consulted NHS staff at all levels in community and hospital settings to see what sorts of courses are needed. It is working with the West Yorkshire Workforce Development Confederation to pilot and evaluate courses.