BARCLAYS Bank has created its own university for 57,000 employees as part of an education and training shake-up throughout the UK.
The bank has also created its own system of individual learning accounts, similar to, but independent of, the Government scheme. It will operate with the support of the University for Industry, which will provide courses through Learndirect.
The university was launched this week with the opening of the first of 10 regional "metro centres" on the top floor of Barclays' Birmingham building. Other centres will be opened over the next 18 months.
The agreement with UFI will give staff special access to "partner" Learndirect centres. They will get preferential treatment and can take any course using the pound;150 available to the bank's employees.
University director Paul Rudd said the metro centres would be inviting, well-equipped and complete with learning advisers.
Mr Rudd insisted that the bank had abandoned its "paternalistic culture" and would let workers use the money for anything from yoga to parachute jumping. "We are saying to staff members that whatever you want to learn is a good thing for you."
It is the first time UFI has partnered a major employer to support an employee learning programme, said Phil Puddefoot, commercial director. "Barclays is leading the way in showing how the flexibility of Learndirect lets employers encourage lifelong learning in their staff and strengthen links with the communities in which they operate," he said.
The bank's chief executive, Matt Barrett, is the driving force behind the university. He wanted to emulate the "institute for learning" he set up while running the Bank of Montreal.