Learning networks and communication skills
The increase in student numbers in further and higher education over the last decade has been dramatic, placing greater pressures on academic staff in terms of contact hours. At the same time public funding of universities has decreased. Furthermore, the current pace of technological innovation and change and the fact that there are fewer jobs for life with clear pathways for progression mean that more of us need to be engaged in learning throughout our lives in order to remain competitive in the job-market. That is the reality of lifelong learning. Students are consequently demanding (especially as they are having to meet more of the costs of education themselves) a more flexible learning framework. This framework should be able to accommodate all types of learners - part-time, mature, remote and disabled students. The revised Disability Discrimination Act, which came into force in October 1999, only temporarily excludes education from its remit and has already challenged university practices. (Another JlSC-funded initiative, Disability Information Systems in Higher Education, addresses just this issue: http://www.disinhe.ac.uk.) All this is set against a backdrop of the government's stated vision for a more inclusive, less elitist education system with opportunities for all, and the requirement for a professional and accountable community of university teachers.