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It’s All STEM Ahead for New All-Digital University

Robert Stoneman Published 22 November 2017

One of Higher Education’s most exciting projects, NMiTE, will establish the UK’s first ‘greenfield’ university for three decades. And it has ambitious ICT plans to support its digital vision

 

Last month one of the most exciting projects in UK higher education came a step closer as NMiTE, the New Model in Technology and Engineering, received £15m in public funding to establish the UK's first 'greenfield' university for three decades. The specialist engineering institution hopes to address the growing skills shortage in STEM subjects and plug a gap in higher education provision across Herefordshire. Although still in its planning stages, this latest round of funding means NMiTE remains on course to welcome its first students in September 2020.

Central to NMiTE's vision is a unique curriculum offering accelerated two-year degrees that eschew lectures in favour collaborative, self-directed and problem-based learning which is assessed in real-time. On graduation, each student will possess a portfolio of completed projects that are relevant to employers instead of a traditional degree classification, and have experience interning with local businesses.

NMiTE has ambitious plans for how ICT will help support such an ambitious programme. "We will deliver a completely digital university, right from student recruitment and admissions through to graduation and beyond", says Professor Janusz Kozinski, NMiTE's inaugural president and chief executive. Technology will be at the heart of learning, with students working collaboratively in specialist laboratories and workshops across areas such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, hyperconnectivity, food security, big data, the internet of things and cloud computing.

Detailed procurement plans are still under development, but it is already clear NMiTE is approaching ICT from the ground up. "Our IT procurement will focus on what products and services our students and staff will need", says Professor Kozinski. "For core business systems we want to look exclusively at cloud-based solutions. However, elsewhere, we wish to give our students and staff the chance to develop specialist systems in-house."

The focus on student collaboration, self-driven learning pathways and real-time assessment will have to be reflected in the IT systems students' use. A truly digital university will require a virtual learning environment that seamlessly integrates with specialist software packages, and industry-standard communication and productivity tools that mirror those used by businesses. It is also expected the entire software estate will be available with a single-sign-on via an identity management solution.

Also central to NMiTE's IT plans is a new campus incorporating 4,100m2 of city-centre teaching space and shared workshop and laboratory facilities co-located at the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership's enterprise zone. Yet what sets this apart is that it will form the heart of a 'smart university city' using data from smart devices to inform areas such as transport and the movement of students through the city. This will help quantify the real economic impact of students upon the local area and provide a practical testbed for the study of the internet of things and smart cities.

NMiTE's ambitious plans certainly have other higher education providers looking on with interest. It will be the first new higher education provider with public funding since the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which made it theoretically easier for new institutions to enter the market. If it is successful it could pave the way for similar providers in the future, making an already highly competitive sector even more crowded.

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