Australia's first private university spin-off from a public university has been praised as an original that could start a trend.
The UK Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, which tracks developments in online learning and transnational higher education, says Melbourne University Private had successfully blended academic rigour with commercial realities after the Victoria state government had demanded a restructuring.
In a report to its 100 institutional subscribers in a dozen countries, observatory research associate Richard Garrett describes MUP, which was established by the University ofMelbourne in 1998, as probably the first of its type in the world.
The originality of the restructuring lies in generating academic work around a core of established businesses, instead of businesses being generated from academic work, Mr Garrett says.
He writes: "This is what will distinguish MUP from public universities in Australia, and from its parent university. If realised, this will achieve a rare combination of commercial reality and academic critique, something that, arguably, governments around the world have been striving to articulate as an innovative path for public universities."
MUP was set up in response to government pressure on universities to diversify income, particularly by commercialising intellectual property and offering goods and services to industry.
Mr Garrett says MUP pushes "the definition of a university" and causes much disquiet in government circles. The restructuring "will have the intriguing effect of pulling the private university back towards a more conventional definition of a university, at government's insistence. In this respect, MUP might be judged to have gone too far too fast."
The new structure is aimed at enabling MUP to meet the government's research and scholarship demands, retain its university title and build on the commercial core of its business components.
An earlier government-commissioned review of MUP found that the university had not fulfilled its original research requirements and had failed to seek government approval for changes.
It demanded that MUP become a genuine academic organisation or stop calling itself a university.
Under the restructure, three new schools have been established, with teaching and research a core element of their operations.
The head of each school is a Melbourne academic employed by MUP. Other academics have also been appointed.
This year, MUP expects to make a profit of about A$500,000 (£180,000) on a turnover of A$55 million. In 2003, the company is predicted to generate a profit of up to A$1.1 million.