Rhetoric to reality;Opinion

19th June 1998 at 01:00
The early rhetoric about Labour's University for Industry suggested that it would be as pioneering as the Open University was for Harold Wilson's Government. The reality is likely to be less innovative. The University is intended to bring competition - as well as public relations - into education and training and to give practical expression to the principle of lifelong learning.

But unlike the Open University it will not provide courses itself, much less confer degrees. In that sense it is not a university at all - further evidence of the crumbling meaning of that term which began when Kenneth Clarke told higher education institutions they could call themselves anything they liked.

Sufi, as the Scottish version is bound to be known, will promote existing forms of provision. If it raises the profile of adult learning, backed as it is by dollops of cash unfamiliar to adult educators, Sufi will have proved its worth. If it persuades middle-aged manual workers into education or training, it will have succeeded beyond any previous initiative.

Further education colleges eye the money enviously. Surprisingly for a sector which had dire warnings about this year's funding allocations, college principals and board chairs gave the Education Minister a friendly hearing at their annual gathering last week (page 34). That was largely because Brian Wilson accepted their case: they are underfunded. He puts his trust in the comprehensive spending review, as does everyone else with a public sector case to promote in the next few weeks. Whether the Treasury-led review favours education and FE is largely outwith Mr Wilson's control. But he and college leaders appear to agree that a positive, "can do" approach is most likely to maximise support.

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