Adult education vouchers would provide "a significant step in the creation of a learning culture", says a report on two schemes in the City of London.
Far from being a "political hot potato", the Corporation of London's education department idea reflected the ethos of the European Year of Lifelong Learning, says the Surrey University team.
Schemes for workers and residents in the Square Mile provide a voucher for all or part of the fees for adult education course offered by the main institutions in or near the City. Values vary between Pounds 40 and Pounds 275. Additional vouchers for basic skills courses are available for the over-60s, the unemployed and those on benefits.
The workers' scheme, piloted last year, is funded equally by the Corporation, the employer and the employee to a maximum of Pounds 200 each. Last week, the 100th student joined, and almost 400 have taken advantage of the scheme for residents, introduced in 1993.
David Smith, City education officer, said at the report's launch that the objectives were to raise the profile of adult learning, help residents and workers to return to learning and widen study opportunities. Vouchers also replaced a bureaucratic nightmare of exchanging written agreements with other LEAs, he added.
The workers' scheme allowed employees to take vocational courses, as long as they were not directly related to the job and did not duplicate company courses.
Peter Jarvis, professor of continuing education at Surrey University, who led the research team, found that languages topped the popularity list of subjects. One firm had used its contribution to provide in-house classes before office hours. "A very enterprising way of using the scheme," Mr Jarvis said.
At least 86 public and private providers accept the vouchers, including Sotheby's, where one resident used his vouchers to follow a wine-tasting course.
The City University, London Guildhall University and the City Lit are the main takers of the vouchers.
Towards the Learning City, price Pounds 9.99, from the Corporation of London's education department, PO Box 270, Guildhall, London EC2P 2EJ