Vice-chancellors warned that the funding arrangements for the University for Industry must be settled "as soon as possible" as the fourth head of the government's flagship lifelong learning project was appointed this week, writes Phil Baty.
In a paper for the UFI planners, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has said that education providers must not be made to bear the brunt of the costs of the UFI. With a launch expected in about 500 days, the CVCP is concerned that charges for a UFI "badge" and brokerage services will be prohibitive and has told the UFI planning group to "get on with" firm proposals.
Sunderland University vice-chancellor Anne Wright will in November take up the chief executive role, which will be vacated by Ian Johnston in September, leaving the post unoccupied for more than a month. Dr Johnston is going to Glasgow Caledonian University as vice-chancellor.
Dr Wright's appointment as the fourth - but first permanent - key leader follows claims that the project has been a "rudderless ship".
The chairman of the UFI's design and implementation group, David Brown, was demoted last December after complaints to ministers from his own team that the group had made no progress, especially with essential funding issues. Education minister Baroness Blackstone called off the group's meetings and moved development work to a team of private consultants, before establishing the transition team at the Department for Education and Employment.
UFI chairman Lord Sainsbury will also be replaced in 1999, following his appointment as a minister at the Department of Trade and Industry.
Roderick Floud, London Guildhall University vice-chancellor and head of the CVCP's UFI task group, described Dr Wright's appointment as "a good start". He said there "was still plenty of planning time" for the launch in 2000, but the government "must get on with it as soon as possible".
His task group, which has welcomed the UFI plans and is working to ensure universities play a central role, is expected to be involved in financial talks this autumn. The government has pledged less than half the estimated Pounds 50 million start-up costs. Dr Johnston said that long-term costings for the UFI were still not complete.
Dr Wright said it was too early to talk about detailed funding, but added:
"I'm confident it is absolutely on track. It is good news that Lord Sainsbury will continue as chairman for a while and with regard to funding, there have been some very positive indicators."
Mike Thorne, Napier University pro vice-chancellor who helps run the pilot, said the UFI could bring higher education an extra 20,000 students.