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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 November, 2004, 11:21 GMT
E-university recruiting 'abysmal'
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The e-university only recruited 900 students
The ill-fated attempt to set up a UK "e-university" was described by the higher education minister as a "very risky experiment".

Kim Howells attacked the failed 50m online university project, which was scrapped this year after recruiting only 900 students.

Dr Howells told a committee of MPs that there had been a lack of marketing for the university.

He said its "awkward" name, UKeU, was "rubbish" typical of the dotcom boom.

"Where I am most mystified is to the lack of any serious marketing," Dr Howells told the House of Commons education select committee on Monday.


As a result, the record on recruiting students had been "abysmal", said the higher education minister.

If there had been much clearer branding, and less of an assumption that people would flock to take courses, it might have been more successful, he suggested.

But the minister said: "I get tangled up just trying to say UKeU. I don't know who dreamt that one up. It's typical of the sort of rubbish that was around at the time."

Dr Howells said the project appeared to have been driven by a fear that online university education would be dominated by institutions in the United States - and that the UK needed to set up its own provider, particularly for overseas students.

Dr Howells, who was not higher education minister when the e-university was set up, said he would have adopted a more carefully-researched approach to the project.

'Shameful waste'

"I would have come at this completely differently. I would have wanted to know what marketing had been done, whether the private sector saw this as a serious business opportunity or whether it was part of this dream around at the time that as long as you were 18 years old and had a database you were going to become a millionaire," said Dr Howells.

The project, wound down in February, had already faced tough criticism from Dr Ian Gibson, the Labour MP who chairs the science and technology committee.

Earlier this year, Dr Gibson described it as an "absolute disaster" and a "shameful waste".

"People who burnt public money in what was a political enterprise should be censured, and Hefce [Higher Education Funding Council for England], which took over the enterprise rather late, should explain what their role was in it," said Dr Gibson.

When the blueprint for the e-university was being set out four years ago, the funding council had promised a "dynamic new way of delivering high quality higher education to students via the internet".

'Shameful waste' on e-university
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Blueprint for new online university
13 Oct 00 |  Education

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