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Post-Covid – and looking forward to COP26 in November 2021 – we see two major and lasting changes that the pandemic has brought about: an accelerated shift to digital ways of life; and a focus on green, sustainable engineering.

The need for skilled employees in areas like construction, engineering, data management, and cybersecurity is becoming urgent. Brand new approaches are needed; not the filtering of graduates through the traditional university system, but a revolution.

That revolution is taking shape in the form of two new model higher education institutions: MK: U in Milton Keynes and NMITE (New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering) in Hereford. MK: U and NMITE agree that the STEM skills shortage can be only met through higher education (HE) that is co-designed and co-delivered with business.

Both institutions are based on the principle that HE has to be rooted in the actual, ever-changing needs of the business. In the case of NMITE that means a subject focus on engineering (the full range from mechanical and materials to electronics), and for MK: U on smart cities and the digital economy. They both plan to concentrate on problem-based learning as the best means of delivering an effective mix of applied knowledge and personal development. Learning is focused around real-life business issues provided by partner enterprises of all types and sizes: NMITE has a network of more than 400 SME and large partners; MK: U has more than 110, some of which are global businesses.

We also know that the future economy needs flexible learners, not just tech specialists, which is why the new model under NMITE includes a liberal arts element and in MK:U a spine of professional development in areas including team-working and management.

In both, courses are aligned to the modern workplace rather than the traditional academic year, meaning 45 or 46 weeks of accelerated learning a year. Similarly, assessments reflect the work environment. Rather than traditional exams, these new model institutions look at how people apply their learning.

Inclusion is critical, not only in terms of the importance of the bigger national agenda of equality and diversity but practically, for widening the channels of people drawn into engineering and tech careers. That means setting an example as well as thinking differently about course recruitment. NMITE aims to have a 50/50 gender split for both staff and students; MK: U has a diversity and inclusion working group exploring with business how they attract and work with the full range of recruits.

We’ve already seen how the pandemic crisis has changed attitudes toward HE. Flexible, career-focused options – like earning and learning through a degree apprenticeship at MK: U or accelerated degrees at NMITE – are gaining more attention and acceptance.

The new model universities are bringing a breath of fresh air to HE, the spur of a fresh start, but they will succeed only through close collaborations with business enterprises to create that much-needed flow of tech talent. Viva la revolucion – contact us to get involved!

Professor Lynette Ryals OBE, Chief Executive of MK: U Ltd and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Cranfield University, www.cranfield.ac.uk/about/mku

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, President and Chief Executive at New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering, https://nmite.ac.uk