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Open College

Volume 114: debated on Monday 6 April 1987

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asked the Paymaster General if he will make a statement on the progress of the Open college.

I announced plans for the Open college on 18 July last year. Much progress has been made since then. The college has been set up as a company limited by guarantee and will shortly be registered as a charity. Mr. Michael Green, chairman of Carlton Communications plc, was named as chairman of the college, Sheila Innes, controller of BBC educational broadcasting, has been appointed as chief executive and other senior staff are now in post. Detailed consultations have been undertaken with representatives of all the main interested parties to advise the college on the course and student services it should develop.Preliminary market research has confirmed the general enthusiasm for the concept of the Open college and the outline of courses for the college's opening prospectus; more detailed research is now under way to help the college determine its future plans. The college has begun to commission course material and will have available from this September a spread of courses aimed at improving working skills, using high quality broadcast and written materials to catch the attention of industry, of the general public and of potential sponsors. An agreement has been reached with Channel 4 for the commencement of Open college programmes from 21 September with, initially, one hour's programme each weekday for 30 weeks in the year up to August 1987. Discussions are under way with other broadcasters and the college hopes shortly to be able to announce programme plans on other channels.Extensive discussions are also under way with potential providers of services for Open college students, including further education colleges, private training organisations, companies and industry bodies and voluntary organisations in order that the college should have an effective and well motivated support network in place to give students and employers the local back-up which they need.One of our primary objectives has been to make the college self-supporting as soon as possible by generating sufficient income from sponsorship, sale of course materials and student fees to cover its expenditure. Given the development costs of open learning materials, this will involve an initial investment from Government. Detailed objectives for the college have now been agreed and I have asked the Manpower Services Commission to review progress against them. Accordingly, I have agreed to make up to £15 million available from within existing resources over three years to enable the college to prove its attractiveness to commercial sponsors and students and to become self-financing with that period.The objectives set for the college are demanding, but I am confident that with the support of industry and commerce and with the initial funding the Government are making available that they can be met and that the college can play a lasting and vital role in contributing to the training and upgrading of skills in the workplace.