Launch for Universities Heads of the Valleys Institute
An ambitious learning scheme aims to encourage more people to take part in higher education in some of the poorest valleys of south Wales.
Universities Heads of the Valleys Institute (UHOVI) is targeted at the area with the lowest take-up of higher education in Wales.
Courses are open to anyone living or working in the area and are provided at existing colleges and community venues.
The assembly government is providing £10m in funding over four years.
The University of Glamorgan at Pontypridd and the University of Wales, Newport have teamed up for the scheme, which includes further education colleges, private training providers, employers and local authorities.
It is expected to provide the equivalent of 4,000 full-time places by 2015.
Rachel Squire, UHOVI marketing and recruitment manager, said: "It [UHOVI] is designed to provide access to higher education locally in the Heads of the Valleys.
"We need to provide access to higher education locally so that we can improve participation levels in higher education in the region and also to upskill the workforce which ultimately will lead to regenerating the area.
"This area has lower levels of participation in higher education than anywhere else in Wales so we need to improve the levels and encourage more people to participate."
She said courses were aimed at everyone over school age and there was no upper age limit.
"It could be people who are returning to education after a time not studying or it could be people who didn't feel academic in school but have decided now is the right time to return to higher education," she said.
"UHOVI is not for your traditional students, it is for everybody of any age."
There are three main categories of courses:
- "Bite-sized" learning which offers an introduction to UHOVI and can count towards further study
- Foundation degrees where academic study is combined with employment-based learning
- Work-based learning which provides staff training and development to meet the needs of industry in the Heads of the Valleys
Ms Squire said the project was "all about making higher education accessible to people in the community".
"Lots of people don't want to travel for various reasons and they might find university campuses intimidating so we're providing access to higher education locally in a supportive environment," she added.
UHOVI also aims to develop skills and training tailored to meet the needs of industry in the area.
Education Minister Leighton Andrews said UHOVI was a partnership which would play a "key part in the economic resurgence of the area as a whole".
"Our Heads of the Valleys Education Programme has promised more than £110m of funding aimed at delivering transformational change and improvement for all-age education across the region - £10m of this funding has been allocated for UHOVI over the next four years," he said.
It is part of a wider project which aims to revamp post-16 education in Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent.
UHOVI follows in the footsteps of the Community University of the Valleys, which was started in 1991 in a former mining community and is focused on south-west Wales.