OU may profit in Labour plan for health service

May 25, 2001

The Open University could increase its student numbers by more than 50 per cent and increase its funding if Labour Party proposals for a University of the National Health Service go ahead.

The party plans to fund the university through a public-private partnership with telecommunications companies, which have yet to be approached. A spokesman said: "We will be using their technologies and hope to involve them."

He said the university would cost between £30 million and £50 million a year to run.

"If all the cooks, cleaners and porters chose to spend their new £300-a-year individual learning accounts with the NHS university, that would bring in about £30 million."

Representatives from the government, NHS Trusts, the British Association of Medical Managers and the OU have been meeting to hammer out plans that could transform the OU and the NHS.

The OU has 185,000 students. The new NHS university could involve 100,000 students.

An OU spokesman said: "It is not yet clear whether we would deliver courses for the NHS or develop them and sell them.

"The courses will be vocational and largely delivered through e-learning, although the traditional audiovisual methods of the OU could also be used."

The spokesman said that the OU was a natural partner for the NHS university.

Last year, the OU set up an e-learning unit called Corporate OU Services. It is already working with 20 employers to develop courses up to degree level.

The Labour Party gave more details on the proposed university this week. It stressed that it would be modelled on international corporate universities.

The OU's health and social welfare school has 13,000 students. The majority are NHS staff or work in the health and social-care sector. It could offer management and leadership courses to the NHS university as well as maths and computer courses.

Health service union Unison welcomed the proposals this week. Bob Abberley, head of health, said: "We are particularly pleased that low-paid workers will have the chance to develop their skills."

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