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Groves of academe in cyberspace;Lifelong Learning

UNIVERSITY FOR INDUSTRY

After much ministerial wrangling, the Government has published its plans for an education system offering a lifetime of courses to fulfil the needs of the new century with its ever-more rapid technological change

If the University for Industry succeeds it will be the first college to be built in cyberspace.

Any demand for real space will be met by hiring it in the local school, college, library, university or shopping centre. The rest is in the electronic labyrinth of the computer.

The UFI was the brainchild of the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research.

It was seized on by Chancellor Gordon Brown and Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett as an inexpensive high-tech solution to the skills crisis in industry and need to get educational software into the home.

Baroness Blackstone, the minister for higher and further education, recruited David Brown, the computer giant Motorola boss to head a UFI advisory group. A pilot project was launched in Sunderland and ideas were invited from any interested consortia from education and industry.

The first four months of the pilot attracted 1,400 people to courses. An initial survey, which was reported in The TES last month, showed that it was a powerful tool for getting education into the home and fostering a wider family interest in learning new skills, particularly for self-employment.

The UFI is an open-all-hours, one-stop shop for training. Using a freephone service, peole have access to information and advice on a range of lifelong learning courses available at convenient places near where people live.

Priorities being given by the Government include IT for beginners and financial, business and management courses to assist small companies and the self-employed.

Gerry Holtham, director of the IPPR, said: "It is a wholly new idea of government intervention to bring learning opportunities right to the centre of people's lives."

Ian Nash

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