Pick up a degree with the groceries

University courses are available off the peg at Gateshead's giant retail park, says Fran Abrams

Maybe shopping centres have this effect on people. They certainly seem to get carried away in Learning World, a new centre offering education- while-you-spend (or work) at the Metro Centre, Gateshead, one of Europe's largest retail parks.

The man who came to fit the photocopier signed up for a computer course, so did the people who put in the alarm system. One of the builders' wives is to start learning a language and the vice-chancellor of Sunderland University, a partner in the project, was spotted last week booking a morning's introduction to the Internet for herself and her daughter.

Next door to Ikea and decorated in strikingly similar blue and yellow hues, the newly built, single-storey brick building could easily be another chain store or office block. In fact, its wares are further education and university courses, though its backers admit to harbouring visions of a chain of Learning Worlds straddling the country, from Meadow Hall to Brent Cross, nestling next to the McDonald's or the multiplex cinema.

A joint project between Sunderland University and Gateshead College, it has recruited more than 500 students in less than two months since it opened. Sir Ron Dearing has promised to visit as part of his inquiry into the future of higher education, a project that is committed to breaking the mould of the traditional three-year degree and looking for new ways of delivering university courses.

Brenda Carr just came to Learning World to look around after her husband heard about it. She was so impressed that she signed up for four computer courses plus keyboard skills, GCSE English and basic counselling. Her friend Susan Milne is doing the same, though she takes a Saturday morning IT lesson with her 10 year-old son instead of English. Both plan to move on to a certificated course in counselling soon.

Mrs Carr, who was born with cerebral palsy and left school at 16, says she has not done any formal learning for 22 years. But now, retired from her local government clerical job through ill health, she has been encouraged by her tutor to apply to do a creative writing degree at Sunderland University. Staff at Learning World, which is easy for Mrs Carr to use because it has no stairs, say she may be able to do her lessons and tutorials there, too.

She has sent an account of her experiences at school to Radio 4's Does He Take Sugar? programme for the disabled, and its producer has expressed an interest in the work.

Only two months after going back into education, Mrs Carr is at the centre nearly every day, doing her homework if she does not have a class. She feels she has come a long way in a short time.

"It's snowballed," she says. "I can't believe it myself. I used to go to the health club every day, but it came to the stage where I thought there had to be more to life than that and housework."

As well as offering education to people such as Mrs Carr and Mrs Milne, Learning World also offers tailor-made courses to employers: 120 members of the Tyne and Wear fire brigade have started a computer course. The centre has 15 teaching rooms, a computing suite, an eight-place creche due to open within a few weeks and two-way videos that allow students to take part in seminars happening 10 miles away in Sunderland.

Its courses range from French for beginners to masters degrees. With more than 6,000 people working in the Metro Centre and with 26 million shoppers passing through each year, the new venture is confident that business will grow.

Dr Anne Wright, Sunderland's vice-chancellor, is certain the scheme will grow. "We are taking the learning centre to a place where people come together and is close to something they like to do," she says.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Pre School Practitioner

£6 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, they are loo...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development & Relationship Manager

£45000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development & Relati...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant - Startup

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Personal Assistant is require...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral