An advanced telematics programme for the delivery of learning, training and business information is about to begin in the far south west of England.
Part-funded by Pounds 2.3 million from the Government's regional challenge programme, Rural Area Training and Information Opportunities (RATIO) will set up a network of 40 walk-in learning and information centres throughout Cornwall and in parts of Devon and Somerset. The plan is to provide a centre within 15 kilometres of anyone living or working in area. Training courses specially developed for distance learning will be available from colleges and other organisations in the region. Students and tutors will keep in touch by satellite, video-conferencing and e-mail. A key element of the RATIO package is the University of Plymouth's television studio and satellite uplink, which already broadcasts educational and training material around Europe. Learning and training will be aimed at local business and industry, individuals aiming to update their skills and unemployed people wanting to get back into work. The network will offer modern languages and computer skills as well as subjects and skills associated with rural communities and the south west.
Brian Leonard, director of the Government Office for the South West, hailed RATIO as "the leading programme in its field in all of the (EU) member countries". He said the programme's partnership approach, was the only way for areas such as the south west to overcome problems associated with relative remoteness, dispersed population, relatively poor roads, rail and public transport links and a depressed economy.
John Bull, vice chancellor of the University of Plymouth, said: "It would not have been possible for any single body to mount this bid, acting alone. The fact that we have succeeded shows how important it is for different groups in the region to work together."
RATIO, led by the University of Plymouth and Plymouth College of Further Education, also has as partners colleges throughout the region, the three county councils, the Westcountry Development Corporation, Devon and Cornwall TEC, government departments, regional organisations, business, industry as well as the voluntary sector.
Chris Bell, head of the department of continuing education and development at the University of Plymouth, will manage the project.