The University for Industry is poised to realise the government's pledge to increase higher education participation to 50 per cent among 18 to 30-year-olds, its chief executive said this week.
Launching the long-awaited detailed UfI Development Plan, chief executive Anne Wright said that by 2004, the UfI would create demand for one million "courses and learning packages" a year. She said the UfI would bring millions of new learners into basic, further and higher education.
But the first step will be to look for a new name. Research shows that the title "university" holds little sway with the key target group - those currently excluded from education - and may fall foul of new rules on misuse of the title.
The UfI, which is widely expected to be renamed Learning Direct and launched nationally in autumn 2000, will act as an education "broker". By 2004 it expects to provide information and advice to 2.5 million people. The courses will be supplied by existing providers in local consortia as approved UfI learning centres.
Bids for Learning Centre status will be invited in May, and 1,000 centres will be opened in March 2001 after initial pilots this October. They will provide outreach centres in pubs, housing estates, shops and football clubs.
Dr Wright declined to discuss how much the UfI would charge existing providers to become "kitemarked" learning centres, but insisted the benefits would outweigh franchise costs. "We will help them access a wider market, and they will benefit from the UfI national marketing effort and the learning infrastructure."
Education secretary David Blunkett announced a 2002 objective to reduce by half a million the proportion of adults over 16 who have had no training or education in the previous three years.