Up to 15,000 students could attend a new university in Milton Keynes…if the scheme can jump over a hurdle looming later this year.
Five possible designs for the new technology focused MK:U were presented to the public at an exhibition in Middleton Hall at thecentre:mk from Friday to Sunday.
Professor Lynette Ryals, Pro-Vice chancellor of Cranfield University and chief executive of the new university project, called MK:U, spoke about the development on Friday.
She revealed that she envisages the new campus, which would be on city centre land opposite the Sainsbury’s in Witan Gate, and close to the central railway station, would be illuminated at night.
Prof Ryals said: “It is really going to light up this city at night. It’s also going to be transformative of the way that our city is in the evenings.”
She said she was optimistic in a plan to see the new campus opened by 2023, with the first students being enrolled as early as 2021.
She told a crowd at Middleton Hall that being just 500 metres from the railway station would make the new campus attractive to “commuter students” who would study two-year business-focused degree courses.
There would also be student accommodation on site and an intention to eventually grow it to a population of 15,000. The new uni would specialise in two-year fast track technology and digital courses, with the hope of filling massive skills gaps and increasing economic growth in the region.
She said that up to 21 per cent of all current jobs were set to be replaced by robots, and artificial intelligence, which is “both a threat and an opportunity.” The hope is that the new uni would give people the skills for new jobs that need to be created.
But before the first student is enrolled, the project will have to pass a feasibility study and then obtain planning permission from the council. The feasibility study is due to give a yes or no answer in November, or December, this year.
A planning application would need to go to Milton Keynes Council’s Development Control Committee. It already has a place in the planners’ bible, Plan:MK. But councillors will be able to have their say on aspects of design and layout, and parking in the city centre.
Malcolm Reading, of Malcolm Reading Consultants, who is organising a competition to design the new university, said the project had attracted international interest from 71 countries around the world.
A shortlist of five designs is set to be scrutinised by an international competition jury this week.
“The eyes of the world are upon you,” he told the Middleton Hall audience.
He revealed that some of the designs being considered posed a challenge to the idea of the “classic infrastructure” of Milton Keynes.
“They propose some remaking of the classic infrastructure,” he said.
But the designs are not ready to go the the planning department yet, and are just concepts at the moment. “We are at the beginning of ideas that can be developed,” he said.
“We are not ready to go for permissions,” he said. “And it will all have to go through a consultation process.
“People’s opinions will matter and we want to get your comments.”