The government-backed UK eUniversities Worldwide was attacked this week by one of Britain's top e-learning experts.
Steve Molyneux, director of the Telford-based Learning Lab, said he was shocked by the amount of government funding that appeared to have gone to UKeU and how little had been done with it. "I've never been so angry with an initiative in my life," he said.
Professor Molyneux was responding to articles in Computing magazine that reported that UkeU had committed nearly half of the £62 million provided by government and had launched only a handful of courses.
Professor Molyneux worried that a private company was spending vast sums of public money without visible accountability. "How can the government allow what in my view is a totally non-sustainable financial model for online learning to continue? Such blatant waste of public funds can only be described as obscene."
The public-private company was launched in February 2000 amid unrealistic expectations of profits. It targets seven subject clusters and aims to provide global access to UK higher education, deliver customised degree-level content to businesses and widen access for UK students. The first of two current courses went live in March. Fifteen institutions have contracted to produce a course and UkeU is in "detailed discussions" with 40 others.
John Beaumont, chief executive of UkeU, denied that the company was burning funds to no effect. He said no more than a third of the total funding had been spent. "We've spent about £10 million on the learning environment, and another £10 million is committed to March 2004. We have committed £6 million to date to content costs. The intention in the business plan is for 12 to 15 new courses a year at an annual cost of £10 million," Mr Beaumont said.
He said that large-scale learning projects were risky ventures that needed lots of cash in the early stages to develop infrastructure and content.