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Learndirect accused of failing users

SENIOR managers at the University for Industry have been given a long list of concerns about Learndirect, the national online education project they run, writes Chris Johnston.

Bromley College's Peter Trethewey, who represents the 460 members of the UFI lifelong learning discussion group, sent the list to Helen Milner and Professor Bob Fryer, requesting a "constructive response".

He stressed that the discussion list aimed essentially to support the Government-funded lifelong-learning project. "We all want Learndirect to succeed," Mr Trethewey said.

The UFI has been accused of failing to anticipate the agenda of the learning and skills councils, therefore omitting organisations such as education authorities, schools and community groups from its business plan.

Other concerns include a belief that the UFI's business model does not serve the best interests of most users; the "deteriorating relationship" between UFI and some of the hubs that operate its learning centres; inconsistent charging policies and fears that UFI and other staff involved will "burn out" due to a lack of time and resources. Other issues include the amount of staff time neededto run a centre and poor staff training.

Shots are also fired at the Further Education Funding Council. It is accused of making Learn- direct too focused on FE colleges, threatening the original vision of enticing new learners rather than recycling traditional ones.

The UFI itself comes under criticism for poor communication within the organisationand with partner organisations and hubs. The list mentions the difficulty of obtaining authoritative answers to local and national questions, and the "frustration born of an apparent reluctance to enter into a national dialogue".

It mentions a lack of public awareness and understanding of Learndirect and points out the technical shortcomings of its computer network, which is said to be unfinished.In response, Ms Milner said the summary was "very informative", but some issues needed clarification.

She said a hub consultative group of managers met regularly to help UFI "understand what we are getting right and what we need to improve", and it could clarify points of uncertainty.

To access messages or join the UFI-lifelong learning list, see: www.mailbase.ac.uklistsufi-lifelonglearning

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