Labour unveils hi-tech proposals

A University for Industry is the centrepiece of the Opposition's proposals for taking education and training into every workplace.

Further education colleges will be invited to provide tutors for small companies involved in Labour's proposed University for Industry. Detailed proposals for the UFI were unveiled at a conference this week organised by the left-of-centre Institute of Public Policy Research. The UFI would offer courses via the internet at home, in the workplace and in local shopping centres and libraries.

A clear picture of the education and training which a UFI would offer was spelled out, but the question of how it would be funded left FE delegates at the conference unconvinced.

David Blunkett, the shadow education and employment secretary, assured them they would play a central part. He highlighted ground-breaking ventures, such as Learning World run jointly by Gateshead College and Sunderland University, as models for taking education and training to the workplace and community.

Much of his speech, and that of Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown, was an exhortation to industry to back an in-coming Labour Government's plans with cash pledges. But the only tangible figures suggested by Mr Blunkett related to plans for a Learning Bank.

"As an initial boost to the Learn as you Earn scheme, we indicated that one million people could be offered Pounds 150 in return for a Pounds 25 contribution from the individual." That cash could eventually be used to buy into UFI courses, materials and services.

Labour wants a business-based approach to the development of a new hi-tech university which it says would parallel the development of the Open University in the 1960s. While the main thrust of the UFI would be to improve standards in the workplace, it should also serve to upgrade the skills of the unemployed and provide OU-style courses direct to homes through the internet.

Mr Brown spelled out four priority areas for the UFI: management skills for smaller firms, IT courses for the unemployed, training in engineering theory, and tackling literacy problems.

The workplace must also be defined in the broadest sense when spelling out the tasks of the new university, Mr Blunkett said. The UFI would also aim to boost the in-service training and professional development of teachers, he added.

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