Lifelong beat goes to Pignatelli

29th October 1999 at 01:00
FRANK Pignatelli, former education supremo in Strathclyde Region, has bounced back on to the mainstream education stage to emerge as the new chief executive of the Scottish University for Industry (Sufi).

His pound;80,000 appointment, from a short leet of eight, was announced this week by Henry McLeish, the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, at yet another relaunch of one of the Government's flagship initiatives which has yet to find a permanent name.

Mr Pignatelli, aged 52, will take up his post on November 1. He is currently chief executive of Scottish Business in the Community and has his own management consultancy business. Mr McLeish paid tribute to his "enthusiastic commitment to advancing lifelong learning throughout Scotland".

The new Sufi chief will have pound;16 million from the Scottish Executive to make a reality of the initiative over the next three years - rather less than the pound;1 billion education budget which he controlled for eight years until the demise of Strathclyde in 1996.

No other employees have so far been appointed, although a staff of 25 is promised and four directors' posts have been advertised at salaries of around pound;50,000. This sluggish progress, two years after Sufi's initial launch and a year behind a similar venture south of the border, has attracted criticism.

The Executive has even to decide on a new name to replace Sufi. Research has shown that the title "university for industry" sends the wrong messages and does not hold any appeal.

The "official" launch is now planned for autumn next year. But Mr McLeish pledged this week that the intention remains to put it at "the hub of the learning revolution" in Scotland.

The idea behind Sufi is that it will orchestrate and stimulate learning rather than provide courses in the manner of the Open University. It aims to commission new materials, identify new ventures, "brand" existing programmes and connect learners to opportunities through a helpline called Learning Direct. The clients will be businesses as well as individuals.

Mr McLeish is particularly keen to ensure that Sufi promotes "the shortest route to learning", the title of a Scottish Executive vision statement and progress report published on Wednesday.

This will involve taking learning to high streets, pubs and football clubs. Mr McLeish launched the first of 17 such pilot projects at Dunfermline Football Club, a pound;6.7 million collaboration led by Napier University and 11 further education colleges.

Sufi will also be expected to help reduce barriers to learning, some of which may prove intractable. Representatives from Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise told the parliamentary lifelong learning committee in Inverness last week that the whole lifelong learning strategy could be imperilled in rural areas if digital technology was not improved.

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