The idea for a University for Industry was first floated in 1996 by the think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research. Last September it set up a pilot project with the University of Sunderland.
The ‘university’ is open all hours, a one-stop-shop for training. A freephone number gives people access to information and advice and enables them to enrol at sites like Sunderland Football Club and many other places near where they live, work or shop. There are 35 learning centres in the region as well as an Internet database.
According to the IPPR, 1,400 people registered for courses in the first four months, mainly in IT, business and finance. Helen Milner, project manager, says that more than 2,000 people are now registered and the number could rise to 5,000 by the time the pilot ends in July.
Informing people about the ‘university’ was a key priority. ‘We did two leaflet drops to 350,000 households each time. We are working in partnership with BBC TV and radio and we’ve taken roadshows to local companies.’
The Sunderland pilot has funding of £250,000, raised through public/private partnerships. ‘Sponsors like the NHS, the BBC, NatWest and Sunderland City TEC have seen the value of the University for Industry,’ Milner says.
The pilot has shown it is possible to fund lifelong learning schemes through such partnerships.
‘Companies are willing to put resources in because the project meets their own goals,’ says Milner.