It is billed as an "exemplar" of vocational education - a school of higher education, backed by an independent charity, offering degree-level study at the same time as work experience.
But the Edge Hotel School, a working four-star hotel offering on-the-job training and a degree accredited by the University of Essex, will have to persuade students to pay pound;18,000 for their two-year degrees, while they work unpaid for up to 27 hours a week running the hotel.
Principal Alan Jenkins said it should not be compared with higher level apprenticeships, which the government is trying to expand as its chosen method for work-based learning at foundation degree level and beyond.
Although higher level apprenticeships would offer payment during training, they are not yet available beyond level 4 in most industries, while the Edge Hotel School will offer a BA honours degree over two years.
Mr Jenkins also said that the hotel school would be more focused on providing a broad vocational learning experience not tied to the needs of one company. "In an apprenticeship, you're very much there as an employee," he said. "The whole aim is work and your work is very much guided by your employer. This is very much guided by the academics, and professional practitioners supervise what the student practitioners are doing at work."
For example, he said that the hotel, called Wivenhoe House, was equipped with far more sophisticated IT systems than it needed, purely for the educational benefit, so that trainees would be prepared to work in even the world's largest hotels.
The hotel school was built thanks to an investment of more than pound;10 million from the Edge Foundation and the University of Essex. The university's commercial department will own the hotel, but Edge will not receive any financial return from its investment, Mr Jenkins said.
Instead, the other beneficiary is set to be Kaplan, a for-profit higher education provider that was last year criticised by the US government for encouraging students to take out loans regardless of whether they could afford them. It will run the academic provision, taking a proportion of the pound;9,000-a-year fee, which is the University of Essex's standard rate.
Kaplan said it had changed its practices in response to the US government's criticism, and now offered a five-week, risk-free introductory period during which students would incur no fees or debt. "Kaplan has a long track record with more than 50 years of experience in providing education and training in the UK," the company said in a statement. "We excel at vocational training; for example, 80 per cent of the country's chartered accountants were trained by Kaplan."
The Edge Foundation defended its use of Kaplan as a partner, saying that the US and UK student finance systems were not comparable. A spokeswoman for the foundation said that the company was an established partner of the University of Essex, where it already provides distance learning courses.
"The Edge Hotel School operates within a commercial entity: Wivenhoe House. It is important for students in the hospitality and other industries to understand the business and financial imperatives of commercial operations," the spokeswoman said. "The fact that Kaplan is a for-profit company does not impact on its ability to deliver the academic education needed by Edge Hotel School students."
She said Edge saw the school as "an exemplar of how practical vocational learning at HE level can be delivered in a new way", and that the charity hoped it could be used as a model for other industries. The school will offer 130 places in three intakes throughout the year, and Mr Jenkins said he was confident of filling the places.
"I hope that it will provide the hospitality industry in times to come with a pipeline of future managers, future leaders of the industry," said Mr Jenkins. "I hope that a lot of people in other sectors will come and see what we are doing."
The hotel school is the vision of Sir Garry Hawkes, president of the Edge Foundation and former head of catering firm Gardner Merchant, later taken over by Sodexo.
Students will take a two-year, fast-track BA honours degree in hotel management or culinary management.
Their week will be divided between 27 hours' work in the hotel under professional practitioners and eight hours' academic study.
They will work at the 18th-century Wivenhoe House, restored at a cost of more than pound;10 million.
Original headline: Edge Hotel School: four-star prices and your labour for free