If it's 2am, it must be time to learn

27th September 1996 at 01:00
The BBC's further education service, FETV, is a year old this week. Ian Nash previews its latest innovations, and asks where it should go next.

For people who trade in sensational facts, the latest offering from the BBC's FETV, which is broadcast on the late-night Learning Zone, is a gold-mine.

A new season called Short Cuts is launched on November 1 with Travel and Tourism - a compilation of snips for lecturers and students ranging from The Holiday Programme and Horizon to Inside Story and The Rough Guide to the World.

It moves at the giddy pace of a fairground helter-skelter and hurls forth amazing facts such as "a quarter of all holidays in Britain are spent in caravans" and "Thomas Cook created the biggest industry next to agriculture in the whole of Egypt".

On one level, the programme brings to mind the comic film - If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium - about the holiday invasion of Europe by uncouth Americans in the 1960s. Climb Kilimanjaro, mountain-bike in Austria and drive the Texas highways on a whistle-stop tour of the BBC's best and favourite holiday archives.

But what a tour. This is not simply a weaving together of chosen moments; it is a carefully-crafted project charting the history and development of both leisure and tourism, using the framework of the general national vocational qualifications as its backbone.

What your average Club 18-40 couch potato will see as a likely holiday spot, students and lecturers are urged to view with a much more critical eye: the devastation of Mexican cities resulting from the inequitably-handled new tourism and the similar prospects West Africa may reap from the whirlwind pace of developments along its tropical sands.

In shaping these new programmes - others scheduled are health and social care, communication at work, understanding organisations and human biology - the producers have raided the archives with greater care than many travel entrepreneurs who raided countries to bring about one of the world's largest industries. Its strength is in avoiding sanctimonious commentary. Such moments, which too often tarnish the best of Horizon and other productions, appear to have been carefully avoided, leaving a cold, hard, balanced look at issues which matter. For the travel student, marketing and customer care have as much importance, as the impact of tourism on the UK and abroad. Indeed, the growth of Cook's tours and the effect of the Suez crisis on them is picked out for particular focus.

FETV is the first television service designed specifically for lecturers and students in FE, adult and sixth-form colleges. The service shares its first birthday with The TES FE Focus. Like this newspaper, it must recognise how unique the sector is and how large and diverse. Both must also look beyond the colleges for readers and viewers.

If the rest of the Short Cuts series measures up to the two-hour travel and tourism programme, it will provide an enthralling means of stimulating debate. It echoes much of the good production work and style developed over three decades for the Open University.

Alongside Short Cuts, the BBC will broadcast Collectables - reissues of series now relevant to the FE curriculum. But where does it go after raiding the archives? And what about the millions of FE students not in college but in the workplace or at home?

Research by colleges has revealed an urgent need for new-style tutor packages and film productions for pre-vocational and return-to-learn adults. FETV should see itself as a pre-OU production service spanning post-14 school pupils, higher diploma students on the Modern Apprenticeship, youth trainees on the new National Traineeships and a growing number of home students who will flirt with FETV - as they did with the Open University - without registering at a college until a later date.

If the BBC does not step boldly into this arena, colleges will. Indeed, some, notably Blackburn College, already are with experimental home links through cable TV.

The BBC is determined to get feedback on the quality and take-up of FETV, at least from the colleges. To this end, it has launched a new site on the Internet for direct link between colleges and programme makers. But it knows the limitations - at best one in four colleges has access. And while college managers are clued-up about FETV, it is doubtful that lecturers and students use the service to the extent that they might.

But then, things are moving apace in FE and television. For the BBC to recognise that the sector needs a dedicated service is a remarkable step forward.

Further education also made the "Choice of the day" radio previews in newspapers last week. One, in the Guardian, seemed to say it all. Daphne Glazer returned from teaching in the 1960s to resume her career in teaching.

"In How To Survive In Further Education (Radio 4) she recalls her often grim struggle to lighten technologies with humanities," the preview read.

The struggle continues.

Short Cuts this year: Travel and Tourism November 1 Health and Social Care November 8 Communication at Work November 15 Understanding Organisations November 22 Human Biology November 29 FETV is broadcast Monday to Friday between 2am and 4am.

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