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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 16:56 GMT
Problems at e-learning university
student using computer
Fewer students than expected have enrolled
The UK's international online university has run into problems.

Immediate talks on a "restructuring" of the UK e-Universities Worldwide (UKeU) are being organised by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

One difficulty is that many UK universities have been offering their own online courses, bypassing UKeU.

Another is that many of the overseas students it was thought might study over the internet have actually come to the UK to take up university courses.

'Public good'

The next board meeting of the funding council, Hefce, on 22 April, will consider a revised plan putting the emphasis on supporting "the development of e-learning in universities and colleges".

Hefce will review with the company which activities should be maintained and possibly transferred to other organisations
Funding council statement
"The new arrangements will place greater emphasis on public good rather than commercial objectives," it said in a statement.

"Hefce will review with the company which activities should be maintained and possibly transferred to other organisations."

Hefce's chief executive, Sir Howard Newby, said: "A main concern is that the new arrangements should protect the interests of existing students.

"We are also keen to ensure that the many successful collaborative programmes of e-learning in the UK and overseas should continue."

UKeU is the operating company of eLearning Holding Company Ltd, whose shareholders are UK universities and colleges.

It was backed with 62m of funding from the UK Governmentand 5.6m from Sun Microsystems.

Revenues come from students' fees.

A spokesperson for UKeU said it currently had some 900 students in 38 countries.

She referred all further enquiries to the funding council.

Global competition

Four years ago, the then Education Secretary, David Blunkett, in a speech on higher education in the 21st century, said: "The arrival of the knowledge economy has intensified the competitive pressures on higher education institutions.

"Learning has become big business. So a new national initiative is needed to maximise Britain's chances of success in this global environment."

Hefce would bring forward proposals for the new "virtual" venture.

In October 2000 the proposed e-University moved a step closer with the publication of an outline of how it should operate, with an emphasis on innovation.

Hefce said it would be a "dynamic new way of delivering high quality higher education to students via the internet".

It would be a portal - not devising content itself, but acting as a broker for any UK higher education institution to deliver courses and student services, provided they meet quality thresholds.

It was to be aimed at individuals, companies and public organisations, at home and overseas.

Courses

Last spring, UKeU was set up as a joint initiative between the UK Government, 12 universities and private industry.

The company had 62m of public funding and was offering undergraduate, post-graduate and life-long learning courses in subjects such as English language, science and technology and business.

But throughout, some individual universities had already been offering their own courses online, sometimes in collaborations with others in the UK and abroad.

UKeU failed to take off in the way that had been anticipated.

Now, Hefce has said it is holding "immediate talks" on restructuring its activities and services, having considered a review of the company's plans on Wednesday.




SEE ALSO:
UK colleges open doors online
08 Feb 03 |  Technology
Blueprint for new online university
13 Oct 00 |  Education


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