The university will be formally launched in 2002. This week ministers published a prospectus which sets out how the public, private and voluntary sectors will use new technologies to make learning possible at a time and place to suit everyone.
The UFI will act as a a broker to enable individuals and companies to satisfy their learning needs. Baroness Tessa Blackstone, minister for education and employment, said the intention was for people to create a better future and for British industry to compete with the best in the world.
The UFI would become central to what we do and give people flexibility to choose how, where and what they wanted to learn, she said. This could take place at home, in the workplace, at the supermarket, the library, the community centre, or any other learning centre."We want the UFI to be a household name."
Within five years an additional 200,000 people per year should undertake basic skills programmes, 200,000 should take ICT (information and communications technologies). Programmes should be delivered to 100,000 start-up businesses and 50,000 established small and medium enterprises every year.
Lady Blackstone announced that Lord Sainsbury will chair the UFI board, which will be responsible for the transitional stages until the university was established in two years time. There would be advers for a chief executive.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already allocated pound;10 million to the UFI in the 1998 Budget - in addition to pound;5m put aside last year. The Further Education Funding Council will provide another pound;6m. The rest will come from European funds which the previous government refused to tap.
All courses in basic skills, she said, would be free - but others would need a mix of private and public funds. A crucial role would be played by individual learning accounts (with a spread of funding from individuals), the Government and employers.
The FEFC said pound;5m would be available to help colleges develop their IT infrastructure to underpin their contribution to the UFI and pound;1m would go towards college involvement in UFI college projects. These latter funds would be in the region of pound;100,000 and would encourage colleges to work in partnership with others.
John Brennan, director of policy at the Association for Colleges said it supported the UFI being a broker and agency for stimulating and promoting other work. "The emphasis on basic skills is something we would wholly endorse and the right thrust is to ensure the upskilling of the the existing workforce," he said.