Project Two: MK:U A new University for Milton Keynes

A number of universities already operate in the city and nearby, including The Open University, Cranfield University, The University of Buckingham and The University of Bedfordshire. Milton Keynes College also provides foundation degree level teaching. These all make valued and high quality contributions to the growth and vibrancy of Milton Keynes but the city continues to lack a standalone university of its own that operates at the scale and provides the specialist courses necessary to meet its long-term needs. Milton Keynes is one of the largest cities in the UK not to have its own dedicated university and this has an adverse impact on local economic growth and the attractiveness of the city as a destination.


The MK Futures 2050 Commission recognised the opportunities that a resident undergraduate population could bring to Milton Keynes, ranging from creating a highly skilled workforce to meet the demands of high-tech businesses in the area, to bringing a new sector of users to the city centre to create a diverse and independent cultural and leisure offer.  This project is working to deliver that, meeting the city’s long-held ambition for a large, undergraduate university in MK. The MK:U proposition was tested through a Business and Development Plan prepared in 2017.

This plan can be found here: MK:U Business and Development Plan 2017

In October 2017, MKC opened up the opportunity for higher education institutions to bid to be the lead partner for the MK:U project.  Cranfield University, a local post-graduate only university who are world-leaders in engineering and business management, were successful in this process, and have now been secured as the lead Higher Education partner for MK:U.  Cranfield University are now working with partners, including Milton Keynes Council, Aston University and other local businesses and partners, to develop a more detailed plan for taking the project forward, with the aim to open in 2023.


With a city-centre campus, MK:U will have around 15,000 students, studying a range of technology, engineering and science-focussed courses, producing highly skilled, employable graduates.  It will offer new ways of learning, perhaps teaching spread over two years instead of three, and with much more integration with industry so that graduates leave the university ready for the world of work, and with less debt.  The university would be a facility shared by the whole city, creating a vibrant hub within CMK where people of all ages can spend time.

 juan ramos 97385 unsplash


A site has been identified in the city centre, ideally located between Milton Keynes Central railway station, the thriving employment area and the retail and leisure core. The future of this site as a location for the university is supported in the emerging local plan, Plan:MK, with an allocation for education use. The Council is working with Milton Keynes Development Partnership as the landowner, who supports the use of the land known as Block B4 for the university project.


The University would be a destination open 24/7, with local residents and employees just as welcome as those studying there.  The “porosity” of the university will be fundamental and has been described as a living laboratory in which the city will just be as much a part of the university as the university is part of the city. The Council is committed to creating a truly civic university and wants to find a partner who can help make that vision a reality.


MK:U will be a centre for school leavers to gain their essential first degree, but it will also work closely with modern businesses and industry to create career paths and development opportunities. Part-time study while in employment will be an increasingly popular option. The environment would be one not only just of gaining the desired qualification but also one of life-long learning and of development based on aptitude and choice.

 B4 Shot


The emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) for the MK:U curriculum has been recommended as a way of responding to the knowledge-intensive, high-technology businesses of today and the future, and the need for highly skilled workers to meet their needs.  The offer of MK:U will be different to other universities, with a focus on opportunities for students to gain valuable experience through relevant business placements, so graduates leave with a CV alongside a highly-regarded degree.

With Block B4 secured for the university (including with an allocation in Plan:MK) we want to take the opportunity to create a truly exceptional development which will reflect the important role the institution will play in the future of the city.  To achieve that, we will be running an international architectural design competition to secure the multi-disciplinary team that will develop an overall masterplan for the site and more detailed designs for the first phase of buildings on the site.


The official design competition website can be found here:


The two stage competition will be run by Malcolm Reading Consultants, in partnership with Milton Keynes Council and Cranfield University.  Stage One of the competition launching at the end of January 2019 will allow teams to express their interest in entering the competition; they’ll set out who they would include in their team (for example architects, urban designers, landscape architects, structural engineer, planners etc.) and set out some of their past projects and their experience relevant to the MK:U competition brief.  These initial submissions will be reviewed and five or six teams will be shortlisted for Stage Two. It is during Stage Two that the shortlisted teams will be invited to prepare their proposals for the overall site masterplan and design concepts for the buildings that would be part of the first phase of development on the site (recognising that the whole masterplan will be built in two or three phases over the coming decades as the university expands). 


The shortlisted teams will share their concepts through a public exhibition during Summer 2019, ahead of presenting them to an international jury panel. The winning team will then work with the MK:U team to design the final plans for the university, ready to open in 2023. 


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