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Learning centres hit high streets

"FITS learning into life" is the catchword of "learndirect", the name announced this week for the University for Industry's network of centres. As predicted, it reflects the Learning Direct telephone helpline, which has now also lost its capital letters.

Speaking at the launch this week, UFI chairman Lord Dearing said that 68 trial learndirect centres have opened across England in venues such as football clubs, community centres and shopping centres. Sites for Wales and Northern Ireland will follow, while Scotland will get its own distinct organisation.

Lord Dearing said the name would give learning a "powerful presence on the high street", as well as increase demand. A pound;10 million advertising campaign will begin in the new year.

"We aim to transform how and where people acquire new skills and qualifications and to deliver learning that fits the needs and lifestyles of individuals and employers," he said.

The centres will be run by groups of employers, unions, voluntary organisations, training providers, colleges and universities.

They will be found in locations including the bar of Sunderland football club; the Brampton business centre in Carlisle; the giant Bluewater shopping centre in Kent; and the First Step Centre in Blackburn, a women-only facility with a large nursery.

Initially, 24 courses covering information technology and business and management skills will be offered by four providers. The Further Education Funding Council is providing pound;4m to support learners in 1999-2000 and pound;20m in the following year.

A wider range of courses will be available when the UFI becomes fully operational next autumn. Up to 1,000 centres will be open by March 2001.

While most of the learning centres are off-campus, three further education colleges will test the on-campus delivery of the courses: Brighton College of Technology, Burton College in Staffordshire and Newark and Sherwood College in Nottinghamshire.

Lord Dearing said that other countries had expressed an interest in UFI and he foresaw a time when foreign learners could take learndirect courses via the Internet.

Learndirect: 0800 100 900

UFI: www.ufiltd.co.uk

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