THE county’s university challenge has been pitched to the USA this week as talks open with two of the world’s top academic institutions.

Project leader Karen Usher is in Boston for “early discussions” with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Both institutions are already offering advice on the structure, governance and administration of the new university. The talks are aimed at establishing grounds for more formal support.

In August, the Hereford Times reported the plan to provide the county with a university linked to some of the world’s leading academic institutions by 2016.

Since the plan went public some 50 volunteers have stepped up to a development team that draws on Herefordshire Council, The Chamber of Commerce, the Federation Small Business, The EZ Company, all four Hereford colleges in Hereford, all the secondary schools, around 80 businesses and many Russell Group Universities.

Alistair Neill, chief executive of Herefordshire Council said the university is “potentially transformational” for the county.

“Herefordshire Council will do everything that it reasonably can do – and personally I will lend my full support to this project,” said Mr Neill.

“We are working closely with the university team to assist in developing the university business case and to ensure that it aligns with the county’s own developing long term economic plans,” he said.

The development programme is now divided amongst six specific task teams:
• Curriculum Design
Fourteen business people and educators - two in USA - looking at likely UK and beyond demand for courses in three broad areas - sustainable engineering, environmental sciences and bioscience.
They are also working with 60 local defence, security, high-tech, food and farming business to establish what science and engineering graduates are needed. Later this will be extended to include national/international companies and relevant professional institutions.
• Global employability/work & life skills
Close liaison with the Weston-under-Penyard based Leadership Trust to develop this key part of the university’s offering.
• Teaching
To work on how MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) can be blended with traditional teaching techniques, accelerated learning methods and one-to-one/ small group tutoring and mentoring.
• Summer School 2014
Running from July-August at Royal National College for the Blind for around 100 year 12 (1st year Sixth) students.
Fourteen volunteers with education and business backgrounds and input from Sixth Form College and Royal National College to prepare a university level interdisciplinary science/social sciences programme
• Facilities & Campus
A group of four is looking at locations in Hereford, Leominster, Ledbury, and Ross.
It is hoped that the main hub will centre in the area to the east of Blue School Street, Hereford, between Widemarsh Street and Commercial Road.
Apart from student accommodation it is expected that in the early years teaching and administration space can be provided by re-purposing existing buildings across a countywide campus.
• Structure, Governance and Administration
A small group of five is working in this area benefitting from the ideas, experience and insight of vice chancellors and senior academics from the universities of Birmingham, Cardiff, Emerson, (Boston MA), Harvard, Imperial, MIT, Northumbria, Regents, Swansea, UCL and Warwick. There will be meetings with more vice-chancellors of UK universities over the coming months. The group will shortly be announcing the selection of legal advisers and reporting accountants to the University Foundation Charitable Trust.