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College anger at university delays

MINISTERS have resisted calls to delay the launch of the University for Industry, despite evidence of overwhelming teething problems.

Websites have crashed, tutors are untrained, and misinformation has been sent to students, and the colleges or hubs, which are to deliver the courses have claimed.

But after meeting principals and university representatives on Monday, Michael Wills, the technology minister, sent out the message: "don't panic".

The UFI has announced that learndirect, the online adult learning initiative would be "open for business" nationally on October 9. The launch had been scheduled for this month.

But Paul Channell, executive director of Wakefield College, said the university had failed to put in place a system that would automatically generate data for individual student records, forcing learndirect hubs to cobble together a labour-intensive paper-based system.

Many hub representatives are angry about the continuing lack of communicaton from the university's management. They claim they are still in the dark about the information they should be collecting to satisfy Further Education Funding Council audit regulations for courses. A UFI spokesperson said guidance would be "issued shortly".

Also, Mr Channell said that hubs were facing problems training tutors to use the online materials, as they are not allowed to access them fully until contracts are signed at the end of this month. The university said that 20 per cent of learner materials are available to centres on its website.

The computer network, which delivers the learning materials to students and is crucial to learndirect's operations, is facing further problems. A recent upgrade caused the website to crash for three days and hubs have been told that use will be restricted on subsequent weekends.

UFI said that 26,000 people have so far signed up for 40,000 courses between them. Three-quarters of enrolments are for IT courses.

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