The shape of further education in the next century was outlined in a national implementation plan released by the Further Education Funding Council this week.
Networking Lifelong Learning: Making It Happen makes detailed recommendations, including budget allocations for the next three years, for information learning and technology strategy.
The goal is the establishment of a national learning network, procured centrally through the Joint Information Systems Committee by March 2001.
Keith Duckitt, head of information systems at the FEFC,announced the plan at a conference organised in London by services provider DIALnet.
He said that the wholehearted adoption of the strategy by FE staff was key to its success.
The strategy will link colleges and provide access to the National Grid for Learning, the University for Industry, the public library network and the internet.
Congestion at access points will be eased by broadband connectivity, with 2-megabit conduits available in 90 colleges by next March and all colleges a year later.
The objectives are to transform post-16 learning opportunities by teaching information technology skills and literacy and improving standards and access. The idea is to offer learning opportunities any time, any place and in any field of study.
The first tranche of cash for improving or building local area networks will be distributed to colleges in the next two months. The budget this year is Pounds 12 million, rising to Pounds 20 million in 2000-01 and Pounds 42 million in 2001-02.
Implementation will be backed by nine regional support centres, based around universities, providing technical support.
The plan makes clear that information learning and technology materials on the National Learning Network should be purchased centrally with access through a "virtual repository", either free at the point of use or through negotiated sector-specific discounts.
Mr Duckitt said the plan put colleges at the heart of the learning community and marked a cultural shift towards lifelong learning and closer relations with local businesses.