Shoppers and staff at the Gateshead Metro Centre, the largest retail mall in Europe, can walk into the Learning World for advice or to sign up for courses.
The information technology centre, only doors from IKEA, is open seven days a week and has a turnover in the order of pound;1 million.
Learning World was set up by Gateshead College and Sunderland University two years ago and has become a model for walk-in centres. According to Chris Hughes, principal of Gateshead College, the centre has had about 4,000 students between the ages of seven and 70 since it opened.
It is managed by a company jointly owned by Gateshead College and Sunderland University and is expected to show a surplus this year. Courses range from basic literacy and numeracy to degree level.
The centre also has a link to the University for Industry through Sunderland University, which is one of the operational pilots for the scheme. The service is intended to provide open access and encourage a return to education and the updating of information technology skills.
The centre employs staff to guide students onto suitable courses and there is careers guidance by computer. Since it opened, it has been a focus of interest as an example of access learning.