Santander provides £30m boost to plans for innovative new university in Milton Keynes

Santander has today announced it is backing MK:U, the UK’s first university focused on digital skills, providing £30 million of funding to help establish the university and further strengthen Milton Keynes’ position as Europe’s leading Smart City.

MK:U is being developed by Cranfield University, which is based just outside Britain’s most successful new town.

The funding is a major boost for plans to set up a new university in the largest English city or town to currently lack one, despite sitting at the heart of the high-tech arc joining Oxford and Cambridge.

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University said: “This is brilliant news. Santander’s support is a major sign of confidence in MK:U by a huge international and local employer. It shows that world-class businesses like Santander are crying out for career-ready, highly-skilled graduates for the digital age- providing jobs and growth in the next century.”

Santander’s contribution is one of the biggest corporate donations to British higher education in recent years. Alongside £10 million in capital financing, Santander will contribute £20million in running costs for the first three years of MK:U’s life.

The capital costs will help finance iconic buildings in central Milton Keynes, which will serve as the heart of the new university.

Santander UK CEO Nathan Bostock said: “We are delighted to be playing such a major role in the creation of MK:U. Santander is deeply proud of our connection to Milton Keynes, with our commitment shown by our recent investment of £150 million in a world-class new headquarters here.

“MK:U will cement Milton Keynes’ growing reputation as a key national and international hub for technology and innovation. It will also provide a pipeline of talent and fantastic development opportunities for our staff in important areas including data science, artificial intelligence and cyber security. Like every industry, banking is being revolutionised by digital technology and we want to be at the forefront of this change for our customers.”

MK:U Chief Executive and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University Professor Lynette Ryals OBE said: “MK:U will be a key force in turbocharging the economy of our region and help realise the world-leading potential of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

“With backing from Cranfield, we want MK:U to apply scientific breakthroughs to solving real-world problems. We also want to show, for example with two-year degrees, that higher education can itself evolve, adapt and innovate. Our degrees will constantly evolve as the economy evolves through training and re-training, with our graduates being ideally placed to fill the national skills gaps that are holding back future economic growth.”

The new university aims to work in partnership with business to develop the talent and skills needed by nearby businesses like Santander – which employs over 5,000 people in Milton Keynes, out of a total UK workforce of around 24,000.

MK:U will have a strong focus on digital technologies. It will offer two-year degrees, higher apprenticeship-level qualifications, and work placements designed alongside employers. It will also provide a new cultural and civic heart for Milton Keynes, which has seen an annual population growth this century of over 17% and is forecast to be home to over 300,000 citizens by the middle of the next decade.

The curriculum will include content which is delivered and designed by industry partners – in fields like artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics.

Santander joins a long list of other major employers who believe that Milton Keynes needs and deserves a university like MK:U - with a focus on employability and 21st century skills, producing staff that are ready to make a contribution in the workplace and helping solve skills shortages right from their first day.

These include global giants like Microsoft, Grant Thornton and Tech Mahindra – plus many local firms from Milton Keynes’ thriving start-up sector.

MK:U is expected to serve at least 5,000 students and be open by 2023.

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Notes to Editors

About MK:U

  • MK:U will bring together the research and higher education experience and credibility of Cranfield University, a specialist postgraduate provider with deep expertise in science and technology, with the commercial backing and specific curricular input of some of the world’s biggest companies.
  • MK:U's education will be designed in consultation with industry, to fill growing skills gaps and produce ‘ready for work’ graduates.
  • It will focus on new technologies, including smart cities, autonomous vehicles, robotics and artificial intelligence, business and entrepreneurship, digital and cyber.
  • Education will be flexible and innovative, ranging from accelerated two-year degrees through full-time and part-time study with work placements, to apprenticeships.
  • MK:U will ensure a complete and continuous STEM provision for the region which includes the new Institute of Technology in Milton Keynes offering high quality Level 4 and 5 provision, and Cranfield’s existing postgraduate provision.
  • Delivery will be partly at MK:U and partly in the workplace and on-site visits.
  • MK:U will use its own university precinct and the wider city as a ‘living laboratory’ to test out new concepts and ideas.
  • It will have distinctive STEM-focus (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) undergraduate curriculum in key areas including digital, cyber, autonomy, robotics and artificial intelligence.
  • In each of the university’s key areas of focus, there will be a lead business partner.
  • Milton Keynes is expected to be home to over half a million people by the middle of this century. It sits exactly halfway along Oxford-Cambridge Arc seen by the UK government as a key source for growth and innovation over the next several decades.
  • 20 million people live within an hour’s travel of Milton Keynes, putting it at the heart of one of Europe’s most densely-populated regions.

About Santander

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. It has brought real competition to the UK, through its innovative products for retail customers and relationship banking model for UK SMEs. At 31 December 2018, the bank has around 24,000 employees. It serves around 15 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking; and 64 regional Corporate Business Centres. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK.

Banco Santander (SAN SM, STD US, BNC LN) is a leading retail and commercial bank, founded in 1857 and headquartered in Spain. It has a meaningful presence in 10 core markets in Europe and the Americas, and is the largest bank in the euro zone by market capitalization. At the end of 2018, Banco Santander had EUR 981 billion in customer funds (deposits and mutual funds), 144 million customers, 13,000 branches and 200,000 employees. Banco Santander made attributable profit of EUR 7,810 million in 2018, an increase of 18% compared to the previous year.

Santander Universities

Santander, through its Santander Universities division, maintains partnerships with close to 1,200 academic institutions in 20 countries. Santander Universities was introduced in the UK in 2007 and the bank now has partnerships with over 80 universities, providing over £10m of funding in 2018 to support university staff and students. In 2015, Santander topped the Global list of Fortune 500 in investment in education (Source: Varkey Report/UNESCO). For further information visit:

About Cranfield University

Cranfield is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

We are focused on the specialist themes of aerospace, defence and security, energy and power, environment and agrifood, manufacturing, transport systems, and water. Cranfield School of Management is world leader in management education and research.

We are home to many world-class, large-scale facilities which enhance our teaching and research. 
We are the only university in Europe to own and run an airport and to have airline status.

Cranfield teaches over 4,500 postgraduate students each year and employs 1,500 academic and support staff. We have the largest number of engineering master’s students in the UK. Our staff-to-student ratio is one of the best for any university in the UK (one member of academic staff to every seven students).

We work closely with business, industry and government across the world. Through our industry partnerships, applied research projects and our executive education and professional development programmes, we currently work with over 1,500 companies and organisations.

We are ranked number one in the UK for research income from industry per academic, with 81% of our research classed as world-leading or internationally excellent by REF (Research Excellence Framework, 2014).

We formed in 1946 as the College of Aeronautics, the first postgraduate college of its kind. The School of Management was founded in 1967.

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