Information Research, Vol. 1 No. 3, March 1996

Training information service specialists in the less favoured regions of the European Union (TRAIN-ISS)

Ian Owens, Frances Wood, T.D. Wilson
Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
and Ana Maria Ramalho Correia
Instituto National de Engenharia e Tecnologia Industrial
Lisbon, Portugal


The expanding information infrastructure in Europe will increase the demand for high-quality, easily accessible and usable information services. At the same time, in the Information Society, there will be an increasing demand for professionals with skills, able to improve their potential through life long learning, accessing and using information sources available world- wide. Highly qualified information professionals are a crucial asset in any society to enable it to reap all the benefits and opportunities created by the Information Market. In the Less Favoured Regions (LFRs) of the European Union there is a shortage of education and training opportunities for information professionals to enable them to cope with the rapidly changing environment. It was to address this need for well qualified and trained information professionals that the TRAIN-ISS project was funded under the IMPACT 2 programme of the Commission of the European Communities


The principal objective of TRAIN-ISS was to boost the development of the European information market through the enhancement of skills and knowledge available within the LFRs of the Community by means of transfer from the more favoured regions. This was achieved by means of a nine-month training programme in various aspects of electronic information, with a focus on database design, development and marketing, and on new developments in information technology that are likely to have an impact in the future, in areas such as telecommunications, multi-media and the Internet. The programme included a one-month placement with an experienced information provider. The contract for running the programme was awarded to the Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, UK in collaboration with the Centre for Technological Information for Industry of INETI in Portugal.

Design of the course

The course design developed by the contractors was discussed in a Workshop held at the European Commission in Luxembourg at which all the LFR National Focal Points (NFPs, these are now referred to as National Awareness Partners) and major information providers were represented. As a result of the Workshop the course underwent further revision and its final implementation form was agreed with the Commission.

The participants in the programme had to meet the requirements of the University of Sheffield for entry into a Diploma/Masters programme as well as satisfying the requirements of the project. The selection criteria were agreed at the Workshop and were as follows: Essential: a University degree or equivalent; and a good working knowledge of English, as demonstrated by successful completion of the British Councilís ELTS (English Language Testing Service) test (or its equivalent) at level 6.0. Desirable: relevant work experience; knowledge of, or aptitude for, information service provision; keyboard and basic computing skills, e.g., word processing; and funding in addition to the subsistence allowance paid from the TRAIN-ISS budget.

The NFPs in the LFRs were responsible for preparing lists of candidates based on the criteria and interviews. These lists were used by the contractors to draw up a list of candidates for approval by the Commission. Eight students from Greece, two from Italy, six from Spain, seven from Portugal, six from the eastern Lšnder of Germany and three from Eire participated in the programme. The NFPs also administered a Previous Knowledge Questionnaire developed by the contractors, which was used in assessing the knowledge gain of the students, when it was re-administered at the end of the course.

The programme

The programme consisted of three periods:

  1. The taught Diploma period - two semesters.
  2. The placement period - one month.
  3. Transfer to MSc status - one year to complete.

The taught Diploma period

Teaching was carried out by lecturers from the Department of Information Studies, plus a number of visiting lecturers including staff from INETI/CITI. Emphasis was placed on practical issues through examples and case studies.

The curriculum

The diploma covered the following areas.

  1. European Information Policies
  2. Database design and development
  3. User training and documentation

Emphasis was placed on understanding the applications of information technology through laboratory-based teaching in the Departmentís networked micro-computer laboratory.

Student assessment

The course assessment was based on seven pieces of coursework and two written examinations. In order to satisfy the requirements set out by the University of Sheffield for the Diploma in Electronic Information Management, the students were required to achieve an overall final grade of eight or more on a 16 point marking scale.

Student support and programme evaluation

Each student was assigned a personal tutor to whom any problems could be directed. In addition students could contact any member of staff to discuss a particular problem. For some of the coursework, groups of students were allocated to staff members who provided guidance. The students elected two course representatives who attended the meetings of the Staff Student Committee and the Teaching Committee thus giving an opportunity to discuss more general issues about the programme.

Programme review meetings were held at the end of each semester and the students were asked to complete evaluation questionnaires. The majority of students found the work load in Semester One to be about right. Most of the material presented was of interest to the students. The majority of the students found the material presented in the second semester interesting but they felt they had too much work to do.

The placement

Twenty companies in six European countries participated in the programme by taking at least one student on the one-month work experience placement. The placements were evaluated by the students as very successful: a number remarked on the confidence it had given them that they could contribute usefully in an organisation, as well as on the fact that the skills they had acquired had indeed proved to be useful. Many of the placement host organisations commented favourably on the students and two later offered employment to their students. One student used his placement report to secure employment in Greece and another established herself as an independent consultant developing World-Wide Web pages, a task she had done during her placement.

The MSc in Electronic Information Management

Although outside the requirements of the project, it was decided that the Department of Information Studies would offer the students who reached a minimum average score of ten the opportunity to work towards a Masters degree in Electronic Information Management by means of a small-scale research project resulting in a dissertation. All the students reached this level and all opted to proceed to the degree.


The successful implementation of the Diploma/MSc in Electronic Information Management course at Sheffield has proved the feasibility of running a European Masters programme. There are also clear indications of the benefits of such a programme to the European Union and the LFRs in terms of the information, knowledge and skills transfer which occurred as the participants returned to their home countries. The benefits to the participants themselves are also clear: knowledge and skills gain; increased confidence; a network of contacts in other LFRs and also in the more favoured regions; and offers of employment for some. In completing the TRAIN-ISS project the contractors themselves have learned many lessons of value in the design and implementation of European and other Masters programmes. In Sheffield, aspects of this programme will be incorporated into the existing MSc in Information Management programme which is currently undergoing one of its regular, and major, periodic reviews.

How to cite this paper:

Owens, Ian, Wood, Frances, Wilson, T.D. & Correia, Ana Maria Ramalho (2000)   "Training information service specialists in the less favoured regions of the European Union (TRAIN-ISS)".  Information Research, 1(3) Available at:

© the authors, 1996.

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