MK:U is planned to be a new model university for Milton Keynes, designed to meet urgent technological and skills gaps.

The vision for the new, groundbreaking university is one that is hands-on, focused on a curriculum for the digital economy, and specifically addressing the employment needs of organisations in the 21st century.

MK:U will be different by design and will completely transform how we think about higher education.

MK:U will be a destination for continuous engagement, enabling outreach into the local community. It represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for partners and sponsors to work together to create something powerful and unique – a new model university for the 21st century.

Milton Keynes is one of the fastest-growing cities in the UK, with a population forecast to reach 500,000 by 2050. It is an entrepreneurial, innovative and exciting digitally-enabled smart city.  Its location at the heart of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc means that Milton Keynes is perfectly poised to benefit from the growth of what has already been identified as the UK's answer to Silicon Valley. 

Milton Keynes is now the largest urban area in the UK not to have its own university. However, Milton Keynes Council recognises the need and has set aside a block of land at the very heart of the city for MK:U, close to the city’s transport, retail and leisure hubs.


The MK Futures 2050 commission proposed a bold vision of MK:U – proposed not just as a new university, but as a new kind of university for the 21st century that will transform thinking about higher education across the higher education sector. Its learning model will focus on the practical knowledge and skills needed by business to solve problems and generate new growth in a digital age.

MK:U’s five objectives are as follows:

  1. Sustainable and innovative higher education, based in Milton Keynes; 
  2. City centre knowledge quarter with striking and innovative buildings;
  3. A distinctive teaching and research portfolio;
  4. An institution engaged in the development and growth of Milton Keynes as a smart city;
  5. A distinctive student-centric teaching provision and career-based learning. 

All education design will be undergraduate at this point, with a focus on Bachelors of Science (BSc) or BEng. We will also offer a number of degree apprenticeships, as well as part time degrees and short courses.

Designed with business, for jobs

Education at MK:U will be framed around business, preparing students for the workplace and focusing as much on the practical application of knowledge as its theoretical base. This will be achieved by consulting regularly with employers on their needs and working with them to identify current and future skills gaps.

Professional skills at the heart of the curriculum

In-depth consultations with businesses as part of the design phase of the curriculum have led to the development of an 'MK:U Professional Skills Framework'.

Professional Skills Diagram


In the framework above, 'personal development', 'business awareness' and 'working effectively' are key skills which will be delivered and assessed throughout the early part of each degree. The skills curriculum will culminate in a substantial project (‘professional project’) which will consolidate the technical and professional skills acquired throughout the entire degree programme.

These skills will be recorded in a personal e-portfolio. The curriculum is credit-bearing and delivered to all students within their timetabled hours. This means that an MK:U graduate will have had to meet a minimum requirement for a set of essential professional skills to qualify for their award.

All aspects of MK:U courses, including professional skills and technical curriculum, will be kept current with guidance from Advisory Boards comprising local and national employers. Advisory Board members will also play an active role in stimulating site visits, case studies, student projects and on-site learning.

Practical, problem-solving learning

MK:U will have a ‘hands-on’ approach to learning with an emphasis on practical applications, projects, site visits, case studies, simulations and framed around experiential and problem-based learning. This approach will also be reflected in the admissions of students – while academic attainment will be part of the admissions process, there will also be opportunities for students to demonstrate their potential aptitude to study at MK:U. 

Living laboratory

The practical, experiential approach to education adopted by MK:U will include student research and practical projects that use MK:U’s knowledge quarter and the city itself as their proving ground. This ‘Living Lab’ will enable students and entrepreneurs to showcase and test exciting new ideas on the ground.

Flexible education

Today’s workforce will need to retrain and/or skill up multiple times during their working lives. With this in mind, MK:U education will be designed around a flexible learning model so that people can take lifelong membership and return to study (for career advancement or just for personal interest) at many points during their career journey. Other ways that MK:U will seek to make its education flexible is through credit accumulation entry pathways and by flexing the timing of classes to suit student needs. The flexible approach to education will enhance student choice and their opportunity to participate in higher education.

MK:U - different by design

Like the city itself, MK:U will be different by design. Content and course design will be distinctive, as will the delivery mechanisms:

  • MK:U's education will be designed in consultation with industry, to fill growing skills gaps and produce ‘ready for work’ graduates.
  • It will focus on new technologies, including smart cities, autonomous vehicles, robotics and artificial intelligence, business and entrepreneurship, digital and cyber.
  • Education will be flexible and innovative, ranging from accelerated two-year degrees through full-time and part-time study with work placements, to apprenticeships.
  • Delivery will be partly at MK:U and partly in the workplace and on-site visits.
  • MK:U will use its own university precinct and the wider city as a ‘living laboratory’ to test out new concepts and ideas.

MK:U will interact with both its students and the region differently. It will be inclusive. It will be integrated with the community, so that local businesses and citizens will have opportunities to get involved with its activities.

Who is involved

Cranfield University, a specialist postgraduate university focused on technology and management, is working in partnership with Milton Keynes Council and business partners that already include Santander, Grant Thornton and Network Rail, to make the vision a reality.