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UFI has to be 'more honest'

THE UNIVERSITY for Industry risks alienating colleges that are working hard to make its vision a reality, according to FE representatives involved in the project.

Jackie Robinson, head of flexible learning services at Stockport College, said staff were devoting large amounts of time and effort to making the university, an Internet-based initiative for lifelong learning, work. But, she said the UFI had to be more "honest and open" and forge more realistic partnerships with colleges.

She said its management often took a "heavy-handed approach", citing its attempt to force the Stockport "hub" (the organisations running learning centres) to merge with one covering Manchester and other surrounding areas against what Ms Robinson believes are learners' best interests.

Only a handful of learning centres will be set up in colleges, as the UFI wants to reach those who are not attracted to traditional academic settings. But the UFI has now told hubs that all learning centres must have the fastest possible links to the Internet to be able to use the multimedia online learning materials being developed.

Ms Robinson believes that by nt setting up more learning centres in colleges, many of which already have high-speed Net connections, the UFI was wasting resources.

The university also had serious internal communication problems, Ms Robinson said, which meant that regional representatives often gave conflicting advice.

Peter Tretheway, head of learning resources at Bromley College, London, said that UFI was under intense political pressure to deliver on what might be an unrealistic timetable, but said it could be very difficult to get clear statements from the Sheffield headquarters.

Helen Milner, the UFI's director of distributed learning, said it was up to each hub to determine how it would operate and this freedom was one of the initiative's virtues.

College representatives are also concerned that the funding system for 2000-2001 will not be published until August and that issues about when funding should be passed from hubs to learning centres has not yet been resolved. A major launch of learndirect, the name for the learning centres, is due in September, and colleges fear learners will be put off if everything is not in place by then.

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