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Comments

Very interesting reflections Seb. I wonder how the impact of the eCPD programme compares. I guess it's too early to estimate how many NEW learners, if any have been engaged but perhaps the number and quality of learning outcomes can be evidenced.
Absolutely agree with you that Ufi was/is a missed strategy to power up existing colleges and training providers.

Liz Perry

Great and accurate analysis Seb. One does wonder whether that investment could have had a more transformative impact?

Interesting perspective, Seb, but as you say this is laden with hindsight - or perhaps you should say wishful thinking. I well remember working for Ufi in the early 2000s and visiting resentful and distrusting colleges who wanted the resources but weren't at all interested in new ways of working. As for the level of sharing you propose, who was seriously proposing this 10-15 years ago, and where was the technical infrastructure to make it work? We can all indulge in what-ifs but it is a bit pointless if these things weren't live options at the time. There are paths not taken, which we can speculate about, and paths that never existed about which we can only have pipe-dreams.

Thanks for commenting Ian.

> Interesting perspective, Seb, but as you say this is laden with
> hindsight - or perhaps you should say wishful thinking. I well
> remember working for Ufi in the early 2000s and visiting resentful
> and distrusting colleges who wanted the resources but weren't at all
> interested in new ways of working.

I do not doubt that this was often the case though I do not think it adequately describes the range of responses. An issue for some colleges was the largely accurate perception that "FE funds" were being used to fund Ufi to commission content which could then only be used by learners enrolled on learndirect courses. Other colleges, my own included, put a lot of unfunded effort into collaboration with learndirect to get it onto a viable footing.

> As for the level of sharing you propose, who was seriously proposing
> this 10-15 years ago?

Several college consortia were. For example the ones covering the South
Yorkshire colleges, the colleges in the North of England. There was also a big EU part-funded collaboration involving colleges in London, the South West, the Midlands, the East Midlands, and South Yorkshire.

Meanwhile David Wiley's Open Content licence was live from 1998 (the South Yorkshire FE Consortium used it on LeTTOL). MIT began to pilot OpenCourseWare in 2002.

> and where was the technical infrastructure to make it work?

It was being put in place in parallel with the establishment of Ufi, for example under the auspices of the geographical consortia mentioned above. In Sheffield there was Citinet, which was initiated under The Sheffield College's auspices in 1998, and had network and learning centre infrastructure organised by 2000. Without this infrastructure Ufi would have struggled to get its "stuff" out into learning centres.

> We can all indulge in what-ifs but it is a bit pointless if these
> things weren't live options at the time. There are paths not taken,
> which we can speculate about, and paths that never existed about
> which we can only have pipe-dreams.

We'll not agree on this point, Ian. I'd forgotten, when I wrote the original post, that the original conception for Ufi was as an organisation that would connect learners and providers together in a new way, rather than being a separate entity in competition with providers, as this diagram in Josh Hillman's University for Industry: Creating a national learning network indicates. I've now ordered Josh's book with a view to checking this properly, something which is not feasible using the incomplete Google books version.

I do think that models like Citinet highlighted that it was possible to deliver the model Seb highlights and this approach was available in places like Sheffield from an early stage. There were a few other examples around the country. I managed the Citinet project for just two and a half years from September 1998 and there was real momentum generated on a very thin initial resource commitment - each of the three founding partner put in £13k per year of funding and the network pulled in around £1.5 million, much of it going to places and organisations outside FE or Local Authority.

Bidding to operate a UfI hub in 1999 seemed a natural thing to do - we hoped it would provide a funding stream and a more coherent learning offer, though in the end it also became a bit of a distortion for Citinet, which was unable for a variety of reasons to establish a new role beyond that of hub operator and it finally was wound up in 2003. I'd also say that the UfI involvement did create some tensions between the college and some of the voluntary sector organisations (in part due to the franchise funding model), though in the main most still felt that it was still definitely worthwhile being involved.

I do think that the Citinet model offered an option for a new way of adult & FE learning providers working together to achieve some sensible coherence across providers - the set of shared services that Seb describes is a useful one. Of course in 1999 we didn't have the web tools that we have now so some bits of that would definitely be much easier now.

Interestingly the new situation in schools in which Local Authorities are handing over responsibility for 'system leadership' to schools raises a number of challenges: so a Citinet-style approach to collaboration might be even more relevant in the future.

A really useful piece of history, Seb. The history of initiatives in education is so often forgotten, apart from in the heads of those few who were there at the time. This means that we are condemned to repeat our mistakes. (And don't learn from our successes.) It would be really interesting to see more - and more perspectives.

I attended the London launch of Ufi and was excited at the propect of e-learning receiving a huge boost in the UK – I still have the bag! We ran a very successful pilot in a deprived area of SE London where the locals were almost queuing up to get free access to mediocre American IT learning materials. It was an exciting time where were able to give IT access to new clients. There was definitely a buzz in the air.
On the strength of the pilot we became a hub but bureaucracy slowly crept in and from my point of view seemed to take the life out of learndirect. About this time I set up a mailing list called ufi-lifelonglearning which became very popular very quickly with up to 600 members. My intention was to support learndirect but the list became a public sounding-board for frustrations in the post-16 sector. The list was regular reading for learndirect staff although they never contributed.
Slowly it dawned on me that this was not an initiative for FE but a commercial enterprise that used FE. Someone in government saw the whole enterprise as a money-making opportunity rather than a boost to e-learning in FE. A missed opportunity for FE and post-16 at large? Excellent materials were produced which we couldn’t use in mainstream.
What a disappointment.
Peter Trethewey

Peter - oh yes, I remember that. I seem to recall providing the list with a Google Search form for the Ufi site because at that time Ufi had not thought fit to put a search feature on its web site. They were not alone in that. Looking at the JISCmail archives I can find this your initiating email from January 2000 (there does not seem to be an archive of the list itself):


Subject: ufi-lifelonglearning mailing list
From: Peter Trethewey
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 15:07:12 -0000
TO ANYONE THAT WANTS TO SHARE EXPERIENCES OF UFI/LEARNDIRECT
There is a need for colleges, libraries, private trainers, development centres, hubs and UFI and others to communicate problems and solutions associated with the implementation of Learndirect - hence the mailing list.
I have included the phrase "lifelonglearning" to reflect the new wider
definition of FE that DFEE is working towards and to encourage possible
synergy across this wide sector to include developments taking place in schools and public libraries.
Please join this mailing list ASAP.

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