A university network that once considered bidding to run the e-university has appointed its first chief executive and is planning a renewed push in the new year.
David Pilsbury, previously head of research at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will initially be on secondment for two years to lead the business development of the World Universities Network.
The network is a partnership between the universities of Leeds, Manchester, York, Sheffield and Southampton in the United Kingdom and Pennsylvania State, California at San Diego, Washington, Seattle and Wisconsin-Madison in the United States.
Mr Pilsbury plans to travel to the US early next year to build links, with a view to launching initiatives in the next few months.
John O'Donovan, academic secretary at the University of Sheffield, said WUN wanted to develop international research links, share research postgraduates and develop a distance-learning masters. "Who knows, it might be possible that we could have a shared international degree," he said.
WUN's UK partners, with the exception of Manchester, had planned a joint bid to run the e-university, announced by education secretary David Blunkett earlier this year. But, following consultation over the summer, the e-university steering group revised the project to open it up to any university that wanted to join.
Consultation on the new model ends this week. It has already prompted fears that it will be less able to attract investors than an exclusive group of big-name institutions.
Mr Pilsbury said WUN, together with other consortia, would want to take advantage of any applications the e-university develops. "They would be entirely complementary," he said. "We don't see it as a direct competitor. The whole point about these new networks is to meet the market need. There is plenty of room for people putting out offerings."
The advantage of WUN was that most of the UK partners had already demonstrated their ability to work together, he said. Sheffield, York, and Leeds are members of the White Rose group, formed three years ago to help exploit academic research commercially.
Another group once tipped to lead the e-university is also continuing to meet. Rees Rawlings, pro-rector of education quality at Imperial College, said the consortium of London colleges and universities, including University College London, Imperial, the LSE, London Business School and Birkbeck, felt it had a lot to contribute.
"There is a feeling that one has to move quickly," he said.