E-universities - the progress so far

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It's been quite a while since the announcement that the government were intending to launch e-universities, but is seems some work has been going on behind the scenes after all!

Last February, we reported that the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC) were to be responsible for a consortium of 'e-universities', formed from a collaboration between universities and the private sector, with the intention of competing with leading US providers of e-learning. The government is providing £62 million to the project over the next three years.

After the announcement, there appeared to be little progress made towards the initiative - HEFC, under the guidance of a steering group chaired by Professor Ron Cooke, Vice Chancellor of York University commissioned consultants to put together a business model for the project, which was unveiled in October. The plan is for a holding company to be formed, which will be owned by the HE sector and which will grant licences to provider to offer courses under the e-university title. An operating company run by the holding company and the private sector will look after the day-to-day operations of the e-universities. Another committee will be established to look at maintaining standards. Apparently colleges and universities have given their support to the business model.

Any UK higher education institution will be able to deliver courses and student services through the e-university, which will work with them to develop the courses but will not create them itself. The e-university will charge fees to students and will retain a share of the fee itself. The courses will be aimed at UK postgraduates and those seeking continuing professional development, servicing the needs of 'corporate universities' and businesses. The Council advertised in November for private sector partners to work at developing the courses and received 91 initial responses, including interest from the BBC and the British Library.

Last week, Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett announced the appointment the directors of the holding company and members of the Committee for Academic Quality, both of which are drawn from professors from UK universities. David Blunkett said the first courses were likely to appear next year.

TrainingZONE says: We won't hold our breath! Much of the time taken so far seems to have been concerned with setting up business plans and laying out the aims and objectives of the project. All well and good, but we'll await the launch of the first courses before we pass comment.

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