The accountancy firm KPMG has teamed up with Durham University to offer students the chance to get paid £20,000 a year while they study.
The prospective students will sign a six year deal and for the first four years will split their time between studying at the university and working at KPMG's London offices. Then they will be given two years of guaranteed work resulting in a salary of £45,000 per annum. An added bonus is that all tuition fees and accommodation costs are also picked up by KPMG.
The scheme will start in its first year with 75 students but it is planned that this will increase to 400 a year.
KPMG, based in the Netherlands and one of the Big Four auditors, is also seeking out students from disadvantaged backgrounds and is already in talks with 20 schools where free school meal take-up is above average, with plans to increase this to 200.
The executive director of the Institute of Chartered Accountancy England and Wales, Mark Protherough, welcomed the 'radical' initiative as did David Willetts the Universities Secretary. "I warmly welcome this initiative as it provides a new entry route to a prestigious profession for people from a wide variety of backgrounds," said Mr Willetts.
This could become the blueprint for the future of universities. Working hand in hand to produce the trained people we need for our economic future. But there will of course be worries that only the well-heeled professions will be able to afford this. Accountancy, law, medicine etc. What is to become of philosophy, languages, geography and the ilk? Are they to suffer as all the best brains are sucked in by these offers?
Universities are seats of learning, academia, looking to research for and impart knowledge. The companies that supply this money will want the universities to churn out capable hard headed business people. Are we now privatising our higher education system by the back door? Will it in real terms just become a sort of further education system to provide apprentices for the richest business players? Will the concept of knowledge for knowledge's sake suffer as a result?