British company to set up virtual university

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The Independent Online
British Aerospace is to launch what it is calling "a virtual university" for its 44,000 staff in the New Year, to compete with fast-learning firms in Eastern Europe and the Pacific rim.

Students of the university without walls will be equipped with the latest computer technology to help them acquire degrees and other qualifications through distance learning. Courses will be bought in from outside universities or set up by the engineering giant itself.

The initiative by BAe, which has the enthusiastic support of its chief executive, Dick Evans, is an example of the commitment big companies are showing to education as a way of furthering their business interests and ensuring the loyalty of their employees.

"We need to compete on a worldwide basis," says Nick Bealey, BAe's education liaison manager. "Everyone in the company will be encouraged to pursue qualifications to be the best in their field. Engineers have to develop just like pilots and doctors," he said.

The company has three education heavyweights helping - Sir Jim Hamilton, former permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, Sir John Fairclough, former chief scientific adviser to the Cabinet Office, and Sir Christoper Ball, director of learning at the Royal Society of Arts.

Staff, who will be encouraged to take courses at whatever level they need, will enter into learning contracts with the company. BAe will then agree to give them a certain amount of time off for study.

Other firms have already established in-house universities, notably Unipart, the car components group, as well as Motorola and the US fast-food giant, McDonald's.

"Outside institutions would accredit what we're doing and we would accredit what they're doing," says Sir Christopher. "We see reciprocal arrangements as the way forward."

Education Plus, The Tabloid