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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"The new hi-tech billionaires want to change the world"
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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 22:12 GMT
Billionaire to start online university
lecture room
Use of the internet in teaching is growing
A computer software billionaire in the United States is donating $100m to start an online university he says will offer a free "Ivy League" education to anyone.
michael saylor
Michael Saylor: "Fanatical"
Michael Saylor, 35-year-old chief executive of MicroStrategy, a software company based in Vienna, Virginia, says he is passionate about the idea of free education.

"I fanatically believe the world could be better than it is and it makes me mad that it isn't, and in this particular case I would just like to see education free for everybody," he told BBC News.

Mr Saylor announced his plans at the Greater Washington business philanthropy summit.

He told the audience that the sort of vision he had in mind was the world's great minds delivering lectures in streaming video over the internet for anyone to watch and hear.

No ego trip

Mr Saylor has as yet no staff, specific curriculum, or cost estimate for his online university project.

Newspaper reports value Mr Saylor's shares in MicroStrategy at $13bn on paper.

He said his $100m donation to his personal foundation was a down-payment towards creating what would become a not-for-proft university.

And towards boosting his own ego?

"If I wanted to do something with $100m to feed my ego I could think of other things to buy with it," he said.

A variety of degrees is already available online. In the UK, the government has begun pressing universities to get their acts together in the face of global competition and offer more courses over the net.

Growth area

According to a survey published this week by Market Data Retrieval, the number of colleges now offering online degrees has doubled in the past year.
martin irvine
Martin Irvine: "Universities are worried"
But Mr Saylor's university would be the first to offer them free.

At Georgetown University, degree courses typically cost students in the region of $110,000 (70,000).

Martin Irvine, Director of the Communications Culture and Technology programme at Georgetown, said: "What people usually perceive to be the monopoly on knowledge production, or monopoly on information that traditionally goes to higher ed., that is all going to break apart - it already is breaking apart.

"And that's one of the things universities find very threatening."

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See also:

15 Feb 00 | Education
Universities told to catch the e-wave
22 Dec 99 | Education
US colleges move courses online
07 Oct 99 | Education
College places auctioned online
06 Oct 99 | Education
Online future for higher education
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