Ally or rival, v-cs ask

May 15, 1998

THE VICE-CHANCELLORS' task force weighing up the pros and cons of the University for Industry is to look at its impact on access to higher education.

Roderick Floud, vice-chancellor of London Guildhall University, is chairing the team that will prepare the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' response to the UFI Pathfinder Prospectus, the policy document spelling out the UFI's aims and structure.

A report to the CVCP council meeting last week said that the UFI, if sufficiently accessible, flexible and affordable, could develop "the learning habit" in people and business. It could also contribute to expand further and higher education and assist in regional development through university partnerships with other agencies.

But there are concerns about the monitoring of standards. The UFI would need to work within the new national qualifications framework being developed by the Quality Assurance Agency, vice-chancellors heard. They are also worried that the UFI could stimulate the emergence of a new breed of private training provider.

A separate paper to the meeting suggests that individual learning accounts could be the means by which students could take advantage of the UFI and that the accounts are "a necessary adjunct to the UFI".

The paper adds: "Setting aside a proportion of funding council funds for ILAs might incentivise providers to respond flexibly to changes in student preferences and patterns of learning."

* A paper published this week by the DFEE's higher education and employment unit, also lists nine "issues" raised by universities that "will need attention as UFI is established".

Universities are already concerned about "elaborate and time consuming" quality assurance arrangements, the report warns, and "there will be considerable resistance in higher education to any proposal to kitemark programmes already validated and scrutinised by the Quality Assurance Agency."

Higher education staff also suffer skills shortages in information technology, as noted in the Dearing report and it is feared that "the shortage of such skills will be a major block to development."

The report, The Contribution of Higher Education to the University for Industry, also notes: * "There remain serious problems in copyright legislation for online learning materials."

* Universities "have identified the global shortage of good online teaching materials as a major block on development".

* "How is widespread connectivity to be funded?" * "How is UFI to be constituted and controlled in order to ensure synergy with existing providers rather than crude competition?"

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