Asda's clothing arm George is introducing a 'learn while you earn' degree programme for students ­believed to be the first of its kind in the UK.

The course will offer four college leavers the chance to study for a foundation degree in retail at Manchester Metropolitan University. They will also take up salaried positions at George's head office in Leicester, although Asda would not reveal how much they would earn on the job.

The two-year degree will involve 28 hours of learning each week, split between work-based assessment, peer networking and reflection and online study.

Successful students will also spend 12 months moving around various George departments at its headquarters. Candidates will also be given the opportunity to work towards a full BA Hons qualification at the end of the course, and continue their career at George.

Steve Bainbridge, director of the Retail Enterprise Network at Manchester Metropolitan University, described the initiative as "pushing the boundaries of UK graduate education."

Asda people director Caroline Massingham added that the scheme would provide a "much-needed platform" for the one in five students who will not make it to ­university and offer the opportunity to gain much-needed work experience, earn a regular income and gain a university qualification.