The government this week announced it will provide an extra Pounds 40 million for the University for Industry, but one of its key lifelong learning advisors dismissed the flagship skills project as "a mess".
Confirming that the UfI headquarters will be in Sheffield, education minister Tessa Blackstone said that Pounds 40 million will be made available in 1999/2000 in addition to the Pounds 15 million provided in the current financial year.
An extra Pounds 6.25 million will be provided for the UfI's telephone help-line service, Learning Direct.
Start-up costs for the project are estimated at Pounds 50 million, with on-going funding expected to be provided through external sponsors and subscription fees from institutions who want to become UfI badge-holding learning centres. The UfI team has still not established how much institutions will be expected to pay for a UfI franchise.
But the announcement was blighted by comments from the government's lifelong learning advisory group member John Field. In his inaugural lecture as professor of lifelong learning at Warwick University, Professor Field said: "UfI is clearly in a mess, a victim of the government's determination to make it a truly big idea before it had decided what it wanted UfI to do."
Speaking to The THES after his lecture, he said that there was confusion over the UfI's remit and its market. "Is it about competitiveness and upskilling the workforce, or is it about social inclusion?" he said.
"And will people buy it? What we know from pilots is that it is a very expensive activity. The sheer practicalities of transaction costs of collecting fees from students will mean that the UfI will have to include these costs in its charges," he said.
Baroness Blackstone said: "This substantial investment demonstrates the government's commitment to the UfI.
"It will enable the UfI to be up and running in 2000 and give it the best possible start in its work, which is crucial to our drive to make lifelong learning a reality."