HEREFORDSHIRE has met its university challenge.

NMITE (New Model in Technology & Engineering) should be seeing the first 300 students on its Hereford city centre campus by September 2017.

This morning (Wed), the project will confirm all-important support from government and leading universities that gives it a final go-ahead – just two years after the idea was first reported by the Hereford Times.

Project co-leader Karen Usher said: “Today marks the point at which Britain gets a new university. The combination of widespread backing from three world-class academic partners means that our doors will open in Autumn 2017 in a brand new campus in Hereford's historic centre.”

The government effectively committed itself to the project last month during a speech in Derby by Chancellor George Osborne that outlined a long term growth plan for the West Midlands.

Mr Osborne said he: “Welcomed proposals being developed in Hereford to create a new university – the government supports the establishment of universities in parts of the UK that currently lack higher education institutions.”

Universities Minister Greg Clark has been working the NMITE project team.

The project's philanthropy company is looking to  raise at least £25 million identified as needed to see the university through its first years.

Leading US institutions Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have been advising on structure, governance and administration.

NMITE is pitched as a “radical change” to way engineering and related technologies are taught in Britain, its target intake being  graduates who combine such degrees with the broad range of additional applied analytical thinking, innovation, interpersonal and leadership skills.

As previously reported by the Hereford Times, NMITE will be the first university in Europe to adopt the approach of the USA’s highly innovative Olin College of Engineering and is backed by the UK universities of  Bristol and Warwick.

The launch was marked by the planting of an oak tree in Hereford High Town by the project leaders and three students who inspired the project’s inception back in 2012, when they spoke passionately of the need for a university in Hereford at a Herefordshire Council public consultation.

Today’s confirmation comes with a list of likely NMITE locations spread across the city centre including the Buttermarket, the old Odeon cinema, Maylord shopping centre and the former Chadds building.

Other sites so far are: The Bath Street offices, Bath Street car park, Gaol Street car park, Symonds Street car park, the Franklin Barnes building,  Blueschool House, the Robert Owen School, Hereford United football club,  space above High Town shops, Hereford Library and Museum, Kemble House, West Street car park, Bastion Mews, the old magistrates court, land behind the Courtyard, the Saracen’s Head, and Castle Green Pavilion.

The project is now looking to recruit a chief executive and leadership team for NMITE, a search that has gone global.

Though a not-for-profit institution, NMITE will be run as a company and headed by a Chief Executive/Founding President, Chief Academic Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Finance Director and a Marketing Director.

The Chief Executive will report to a board of trustees.

Running costs of the university, once launched, will be met through tuition fees and continuing funding from industry. The project will initially raise at least £20M for purchasing land, building the campus and other capital needs.

These funds will come from private sources - primarily businesses and philanthropic donations -  with the development team is being advised by philanthropy specialists - as well as government and EU funding.

Despite a deep historical relationship with higher education, Herefordshire is one of only three counties in the UK that does not have a university.

Every year around  1,800 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 leave the County for higher education or better paying jobs – 60 per cent do not return.

Over time this has left the county with a significant “missing generation” as it enters a key period of economic re-development.

NMITE will teach a technology & engineering curriculum that, in placing applied engineering innovation at its core, will focus on the defence, security & cyber, agri-technology, advanced manufacturing, and green & renewable technologies sectors.

A related small and medium enterprise-focused facility will operate at Skylon Park, Rotherwas.

An extended academic year will be offered to students of all ages on tech-based academic schedules.

Starting with an initial intake of 300, NMITE is expected to have 5,000 students within its first decade on a fully sustainable city centre campus with “hubs”  in several locations.

Student accommodation, arranged in colleges, will similarly be located around the City.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, the project has been led by a core team of around 25 local business people and academics, all volunteers, as the charitable Herefordshire Tertiary Education Trust (HTET).

An international team of over 30 professional educators is providing additional advice and guidance.

“It is continuing to seek, and receive, advice from the University of Bristol and University of Warwick particularly in the design and content of the courses.”

Olin College of Engineering  provides curriculum guidance.

The University of Warwick will award NMITE’s degrees until receipt of a royal degree conferring charter.

Herefordshire Council has been involved with the project from the early stage and included a university in its economic development plan.

Senior council officers are working with the NMITE development team to identify key sites for the university and transfer those assets to the project.

The project also has support from a cross party team of political leaders.

With fundraising managed by HTET, funding itself will build on a base of property assets transferred from the council.

A local Founders Fund campaign has been organized to secure initial seed funding from the community with a “significant” wider campaign to follow targeting  private and corporate philanthropic donors, the social capital market, foundations and, if appropriate, UK Government and EU sources.

NMITE – what’s being said

Sir Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol: “We are very pleased to be involved in this new venture in Hereford, drawing on our expertise in delivering high quality engineering programmes to provide advice on curriculum development and the deployment of innovative teaching methods. Page 2 of

“All universities have a responsibility to equip their students with the skills needed for their future lives, and we will be working with NMITE to see how these methods can be used for the benefit of their students, the engineering and technology sector, and the UK.”

Professor Pam Thomas, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (for People and Public Engagement) at the University of Warwick: "We have been delighted to have been asked to help and advise our colleagues at NMITE on areas such as syllabus and pedagogy. We are now beginning to advise and explore with our NMITE colleagues as to how degrees could be awarded to students in the early years of its operation.“The fact that this would be first new greenfield university in 30 years has a great deal of resonance with the experience of the University of Warwick as this very year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Warwick’s creation on a greenfield site, and our rise to become one of the UK’s top ten research-led universities.“

Dr Richard Miller, the President of the Olin College of Engineering (Massachusetts, USA): “Olin College of Engineering is supporting the initiative by providing consultation and advice. Olin College is a unique new institution with a national mission to change higher education in ways that have been needed for a generation. It is more than a highly selective and respected undergraduate programme in engineering—it is a kind of privately funded national laboratory for STEM education.

“Founded in 1997 by a nearly $500 million investment by the F.W. Olin Foundation for the specific purpose of ‘becoming an important and constant contributor to the advancement of engineering education in America and throughout the world,’ it has been visited by more than 480 universities in the last 5 years alone.”

Alistair Neill, Chief Executive - Herefordshire Council:  “This is a really big moment for Herefordshire, as it marks an enormous step forward in our ability to compete economically with every other region in the country. We live in a knowledge economy, nationally and internationally - and our future county success and that of our young adults, depends heavily on being genuinely competitive in this very challenging international arena. Herefordshire’s new university will gear the county to achieve its share of that success. It is also an incredibly powerful economic generator – the new university will introduce very significant new investment into the county. Herefordshire Council has voiced its strong support for this transformative project, and we will continue to work very closely with project leaders, in preparing for the university to be established.”

Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford & South Herefordshire: “I first made the argument for a university of Herefordshire in 2009 - and I am thrilled that this challenge has been taken up with such enthusiasm and so well by Karen Usher and her team.

The project has the potential to serve as a model and a testing ground for innovation in UK Higher Education, whilst also transforming Herefordshire's economy, and the opportunities available to our young people.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed his support for the project in his speech in the Midlands last month, and I am working closely with Treasury officials and the Universities Minister to help take the project to the next stage."

HISTORY LESSON - A university for Herefordshire

THE idea of a university in Herefordshire has been around since the late 1950s, but previous schemes proposed failed to find support.

More recent moves began in earnest back in 1995, when a feasibility study was commissioned through the then Hereford City Council.

Two years later, that study rejected the idea of a 2,000-place campus in the county as “too risky” with no guarantee of viability.

The report did, however, confirm the kind of economic benefits a university could bring and suggested that the way ahead was a base through which an existing university or universities could deliver learning programmes across the region under a co-operative arrangement.

By 1999, any bid for a brand new University of Herefordshire had been firmly ruled out by the county’s education bosses and the concept of a cooperative arrangement took over.

That stance strengthened, given the then economic and demographic outlook for the county, which led to the setting up of a special Higher Education for Herefordshire project group – an alliance of academic, business, and political interests – in 2007.

The New University Challenge programme announced by the government in 2008 gave the group’s work impetus in inviting bids from towns and cities across the UK for universities and university centres of their own.

Government money for the 20 new centres it wanted to see opened or agreed to over the next six years was to be channelled through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

 About £150 million was set aside but projects were also expected to find funding from other sources.

Bids had to be delivered through an existing higher education provider.

In Herefordshire’s case that was the University of Worcester, with the county facing close competition from Shropshire and from Sandwell, in the West Midlands.

That bid would have made the whole county a campus for universities delivering a diverse range of courses online to libraries, village halls, workplaces and even churches.

Those courses were to be run through a “university centre” set up on the then Edgar Street Grid site, with the county education base in Blackfriars (now the Robert Owen School) being backed by Herefordshire Council’s then cabinet as the best option.

That bid was rejected a year later with the HEFCE saying the county “did not have enough of a population” to support a university.