What education opportunities could Universal Studios bring to Bedford?

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Bedford College Buchanan Centre. Image: Bedford College Group
Bedford College's Buchanan Centre is their advanced engineering and construction centre. Image: Bedford College Group

In late 2023 Comcast, bought a 480-acre plot of land just south of Bedford, announcing they’re exploring plans to build a new Universal Studios park in the UK, to add to their numerous other locations across the world.

With the announcement, questions arose about the benefits this would bring to surrounding areas, and in particular educational and employment initiatives.

As the plans, spearheaded by Universal Destinations and Experiences (Universal), are still in their feasibility study stage little has been revealed about the local initiatives and institutions they may partner with should plans go ahead.

Read: All our stories about Universal Studios UK

However, Universal has stated in their consultation material that they have a, ‘proven track record of partnering with local schools and colleges’.

They have also expressed interest in partnering with more national programmes, such as The Prince’s Trust Team Programme – a scheme organised to help develop transferable skills in people aged 18-25.

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University case study. Image: Universal Destinations and Experiences
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University case study. Image: Universal Destinations and Experiences

Prior case studies also show Universal’s involvement in local educational institutions, some of which include partnering with the University of Central Florida and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University through their creative lab programme.

From this program, 38% of graduates were offered either a position as a full-time team member or a skilled intern.

Opportunities

Universal’s previous track record with educational programmes indicates a potential benefit for local educational institutions in Bedfordshire, possibly opening the door for a wider range of opportunities for Bedford College and University graduates across STEM and many other fields.

Even though there is no confirmation on any certain partnerships thus far, Yiannis Koursis OBE, CEO of Bedford College Group (BCG), spoke about the huge opportunities that partnering with Universal could bring to the college and its students.

Koursis states that the development of a nearby Universal will increase “opportunities for careers that people might never have thought exist, or careers people need to leave the town to go and get” causing opportunities to “not only arise for young people, but adults too.

One of the main subject areas offered by Bedford College is engineering, with Koursis stating, “When you think of a theme park the first thing you think of is rides and behind the rides you have hundreds of engineers”.

He emphasises how Bedford College is an opportune place for both these demographics to study their T-levels and gain the qualifications they need.

Koursis continues to explain in more depth some of the opportunities that may fly under the radar when thinking of, “the size of the park itself and how to maintain it”, after the initial construction of the park.

When it comes to the upkeep and day-to-day running of the park, Koursis details courses they offer, “not just in engineering or finance”, explaining how Shuttleworth College (another college within the BCG) “specialises in land management, horticulture and agriculture.”

With the extensive range of courses offered under both colleges, Koursis lists roles outside engineering; for example, chefs, front of house and many other hospitality roles.

Exploring options

The BCG are already working with, “more than 1000 businesses currently” and offers a variety of courses over 25 different subject areas, with the prospect of Universal Studios being, “another one of those businesses to add to the list.”

The new CEO of Bedford college, Yiannis Koursis OBE.
Bedford College CEO, Yiannis Koursis OBE. Image: Bedford College Group

The BCG has already been talking to human resources over at Universal Studios, however, Koursis emphasises this is “not yet guaranteed.”

Universal Destinations and Experiences also emphasises that no agreements with local educational providers had been made yet, and they were still exploring options and ideas with establishments of all levels across the region.

It is unsure whether a partnership with Universal is on the cards and if it is to happen it would most likely be beyond 2030, but in the meantime, this gives Bedford College Group plenty of time to “develop talent so they have the right workforce” just in case this partnership does happen.

Whilst there has been some scepticism about the development of this new Universal Studios theme park, Koursis is confident that “Bedford College is fully behind the idea of Universal Studios coming to Bedford.”

Although Koursis believes “rail links and the M1 could be better, “he has high hopes that this project will bring “prosperity” and be wonderful for the “visitor economy in town.”