Learndirect criticised in NAO report

The online adult learning service Learndirect has been criticised in a new report for spending too much on marketing and management.

The National Audit Office report said that although the service had “pushed the boundaries of learning methods”, it was still spending too much on administrative costs.

The report examined both Learndirect and Ufi, which runs the service. It found that although marketing and management costs had reduced last year, £54.2 million was still being spent – equivalent to 29% of the budget allocated for services to Learndirect learners.

The report said that Ufi’s four-tier delivery chain led to “duplication and unproductive administration” and should be streamlined to a one-tier system, in order to free up more resources for front-line services.

The Department for Education and Skills established Ufi in 1998 to help address a skills shortage in the workforce. It has established a national advice line and website, as well as a network of around 2,400 Learndirect centres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Learndirect is now the largest education provider of its type in the world, with a total of 1.7 million people having taken four million Learndirect courses.

However, only 9% of Learndirect learners have gone on to gain a full Level 2 qualification within two years – a figure that Ufi said it wants to increase.

The NAO report also expressed concerns about the long-term sustainability of the Learndirect network in rural areas and centres dealing with disadvantages groups and said that Ufi needed to develop plans for their viability.

The report also said that although there was high recognition of Learndirect among the general public, there was less recognition among employers, many of whom were unaware of the full range of services offered. The report said that Ufi needed to do more to market Learndirect to the small and medium-sized business sector.

Sir John Bourn said: “Learndirect is attracting large numbers of learners who otherwise would not have undertaken learning.

“Management and administration costs have reduced with time, but still take up too large a portion of the budget. They need to be streamlined so that more money can go into services for learners and to increase the emphasis on small and medium-sized businesses.”

Ufi Chairman John Weston welcomed the report. He said: “We are delighted that the NAO acknowledges the innovative approach to learning delivery developed by Ufi and acknowledge the progress we need to make in working with government to exploit Learndirect services more widely across public service delivery, develop a service which is uniformly of a high quality across our national network and increase the proportion of Learndirect learners progressing to other forms of provision.”


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