20 September 2017 10:50

Lancaster University is part of a new Higher Education project launched today by a partnership drawn from the worlds of business, football, education and local government.

University Academy 92 (UA92) is an  idea first conceived by the Class of ’92 - former Manchester United teammates Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville who approached Lancaster University and Trafford Council to help them develop the concept.

The three organisations have now been joined in the partnership by Microsoft, property services firm Bruntwood and Trafford College. The project also has the support of Manchester United Football Club and Lancashire County Cricket Club.

The project offers students paid placements in business while developing their personal and academic abilities.

UA92 will make a strong contribution towards regeneration of the Old Trafford and Stretford areas, with the new campus and student accommodation featuring as key elements of a refreshed masterplan to transform and regenerate the area, which is also being launched today and is the key driver for Trafford’s involvement.  It is a long held priority for Trafford Council to see the north of the borough revitalised and become a key location in the city region.

UA92 will be a catalyst to wider benefits for the local community which include skills development, new employment opportunities, the rejuvenation of Stretford town centre, development of a new leisure centre for Stretford, the opportunity to engage in sports and healthy living, supporting our physical activity ambitions and helping to reduce demand on the health and social care economy.

Today represents the public launch of the project and the beginning of a three-month period of consultation with key stakeholders, including a master planning exercise by Trafford Council. The partners have spent the past few months working on the concept and business plan to ensure it is a viable project before launching the consultation exercise.

Project founder Gary Neville said: “I have always believed that success is down to more than just having talent and good luck. There should be no limits to what you can achieve with the right preparation. Our aim is that UA92 graduates would leave with an academic qualification, of course, but also with a range of other skills such as how to deal with pressure, understand finance, leadership and presentational skills, and also how to maintain a healthy body and mind. In other words, the complete package you need to succeed in the workplace.”

UA92 has a strong 'widening participation' mission and is designed to attract students who might not otherwise have gone to university as well as traditional university entrants looking for a broader formative experience that enhances life skills as well as employability. At the centre of UA92 philosophy is the Target Talent Curriculum, which seeks to put personal development at the core of the learning experience. It will focus on providing students with ten attributes: academic learning, life skills, work experience, how to survive in demanding workplace situations, leadership skills, peer group analysis, participative learning, fitness, and presentation and financial skills. The intention is to welcome the first students in September 2019 to a new campus in Talbot Road, Old Trafford.

Professor Mark E Smith, the Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, added: “We were very interested in the ideas presented by the Class of 92 because they matched closely with a number of things Lancaster already does very well, particularly innovation, widening participation and employability. We therefore felt we could make a strong contribution to a project which seeks to do things differently. This is a good time to test the appetite for a venture of this nature for two reasons. Firstly, the government wishes to open up the Higher Education marketplace to new and innovative ways of delivery. Secondly, businesses are becoming increasingly interested in how Higher Education can prepare students for working life. This project is designed to address both of those ideas head on.”

Sean Anstee, the Leader of Trafford Council, commented: “We will now proceed to the public consultation phase of the project and see what local people think of the idea. In my view it presents a fantastic opportunity to revitalise and support our local communities. It will create jobs and attract 6,500 students to the borough by 2028. Trafford already has some of the best performing schools in the country, as well as a rich and successful history of sport and business, so it is an ideal home for this new and exciting education initiative. With Manchester United Football Club, Lancashire County Cricket Club and Media City on our doorstep not to mention more than 11,000 businesses, UA92 students will find it an inspirational location in which to study.”    

UA92 students will have paid work placements with a business or other organisation as an integral part of their studies. Therefore, a key element of the project will be to form a number of partnerships with businesses. Initial discussions have proved positive and Microsoft is the founding business partner in the project.

Derrick McCourt, General Manager of the Customer Success Unit at Microsoft said: “UA92's mission to nurture talent and ambition is closely aligned with Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. With the increasing importance of digital skills in the UK, we share UA92’s mission to help prepare students with specific skills and practical expertise that employers want and need -- now and in the future. For our part, we are proud to play a role in both the educational and technology aspects of this new initiative.  It’s an exciting time for technology in Manchester and I’m personally looking forward to see it grow as a technology hub.”

The UA92 project comes at a time when the Government is seeking to introduce more competition and challenge in the Higher Education marketplace. It has been welcomed by the Department for Education.

A DfE spokesman said: “If we are to meet the future skills needs of this country we cannot stand still - we must ensure that our higher education system is fulfilling its potential and meeting the demand for new ways of learning with strong routes to employment. The partnering of business giants, including Microsoft, with Lancaster University – recently rated Gold in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework - highlights how academia and business can collaborate to create a ground-breaking new model of higher education. New and independent providers have always played an important role in increasing choice and extending the benefits of higher education to more people and University Academy 92 is true to that mission.”

The UA92 project also has the support of former Manchester United Football Club manager Sir Alex Ferguson CBE.

Sir Alex said: “I want to wish Gary, Nicky, Ryan, Paul and Phil good luck as they embark on a commendable project that demonstrates their commitment to giving something back to the community that played such a formative role in their lives. It is a project with great potential and I hope that their efforts make a genuine difference and provide opportunities in life for those that otherwise would not have been given a chance to realise their potential.”

UA92 will also create a unique partnership with Trafford College which will give students aged 16-19 years old access to high quality technical and professional qualifications combined with a joint enhanced skills development programme.

Lesley Davies, Principal and Chief Executive Officer of Trafford College, said: “Our programme will include qualifications in business, sport excellence and media.  In addition all students will not only produce an extended project determined by the business partners but also benefit from the development of a personal employability and digital skills plan, business master classes from partner organisations and high quality work placement opportunities. Throughout their time at the Academy students will also be working with the UK’s leading brands in sport, media and business and have a route into a university focused on the needs of industry.”    

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “What a fantastic addition to our already highly sought after portfolio of Higher Educational establishments.  Manchester already has huge appeal to prospective students and this particular University offer opens up a whole new audience for us and opens up new avenues for economic growth and regeneration. I am proud that we can offer such a high profile, unique and holistic approach to education and its Manchester once again leading the way, breaking new ground and securing a successful future for many young people."