One in five colleges is tapping into the British obsession with shopping by trading their wares in high streets and city-centre malls.
The first detailed research into the success of the move suggests college stores are attracting buyers from all walks of life. About half (51 per cent) of the 224 colleges which responded to the survey say the shops are "very effective" for student recruitment. Almost two-thirds (69 per cent) say they are very effective for giving information and advice.
The shops also raise the profile of the colleges and provide value for money, according to considerably more than half the further and higher education colleges which responded to the survey for the Higher Education Information Services Trust (HEIST).
The average staffing cost per shop is Pounds 30,550 a year. Staffing levels vary considerably but many have two full-time and two part-time employees. Four out of 10 open on Saturdays.
Some efforts to become high-street retailers of education and training have been taken further, with colleges not only signing up students but providing courses in the shopping centre for those who are unable to get to the college campus.
One of the most innovative is the joint venture of Gateshead College and the University of Sunderland. Their enterprise called Learning World - already dubbed "Courses R' Us" - opens next week in the Gateshead Metro Centre. It is one of the largest shopping centres in Britain, attracting 26 million visitors a year - 800,000 in Christmas week alone.
A further 12 per cent of colleges are considering opening high-street shops to promote courses, says the researcher Graham Taylor, assistant principal at Eastleigh College in Hampshire. One in five were definitely not planning shops but for specific reasons, he added.
The survey also covered the 99 training and enterprise councils (in England and Wales) and local enterprise companies (in Scotland). More than a quarter have opened training shops or are planning to do so.
Eight out of 10 shops are run by TECs and colleges working together.