Would you like fries with your degree?
Hamburger University, the training centre at McDonald's London headquarters that has prepared generations of McDonald's managers since 1977, is offering accredited degrees for the first time.
In a partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, the fast-food company is training dozens of staff for its custom-made foundation degree in managing business operations, building on already recognised lower- level courses, dubbed "burgerlaureates".
It means that McDonald's, which invests pound;30 million a year in training, can now offer qualifications ranging from basic skills to degree-level courses. Staff can take online modules in literacy and numeracy, while based in the restaurant; an apprenticeship at level two; or pursue the company's own level-three course in shift management.
As a result, it has decided to produce a college-style prospectus, to be distributed to careers advisers, that will present a career with McDonald's training as a seamless part of the education system.
McDonald's has been fighting negative perceptions of a "McJob" for several years, even going as far as to petition the Oxford English Dictionary to change its definition of the term as an "unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects".
But David Fairhurst, the company's head of human resources, said its real motivation is to benefit from better trained, better motivated staff.
"A lot of young people have to put up with negative comments for working for us," he said. "People say, `They're uneducated, they're all stupid.' So they've got no confidence. The qualifications mean that the young people take the training they're in, that we would have done anyway, far more seriously.
"Their friends can see that they've got the equivalent of five GCSEs, they've got apprenticeships. Their family praises them and their confidence builds up."
Hamburger University in East Finchley trains 17,500 students a year, making it a fraction larger by student numbers than Loughborough University.
However, its accredited programme is starting very small: 10 students completed the course in July as part of the pilot programme, while a further 53 began studying this month.
It is not the first time that employers have designed bespoke foundation degree courses with universities and colleges, but the McDonald's course is unusual in that company staff, drawn from its ranks of managers and prepared as trainers, also provide most of the tuition.
The course is designed to meet the needs of restaurant managers, while Manchester Metropolitan University has also used elements of its management development programme to add a broader business and academic perspective.
McDonald's received its first Ofsted inspection for its apprenticeship provision, which is accredited by City and Guilds, earning a grade- two rating of "good".
Mr Fairhurst said companies should not complain about inspections creating red tape, but should welcome it as an opportunity to show their courses had credibility and could measure up to the rest of the education world.
He said: "I've been very critical of many businesses because they say Ofsted and the sector skills councils are difficult and bureaucratic. We don't see it as bureaucratic, we see it as a learning experience: they make suggestions, and we see it as an endorsement that we are doing it properly. It takes some getting used to, it's very rigorous and it's uncharted territory for employers. But if we are serious about this, we need to know we are doing it properly."