The UK's e-university hopes to sell some of the support services, technology and applications in its global online-learning business to domestic universities.
Under the plan, UKeU would offer universities space on its e-learning platform to run courses and to provide round-the-clock backup. It hopes to set up a pilot user group this year.
According to UKeU chief executive John Beaumont, the service could help universities reduce running costs. But, he said, UKeU's core business was still to offer online degrees and diplomas from UK universities to individuals, public-sector organisations and corporations worldwide.
The company, which is signing a second batch of agreements, this week announced a deal with the UK Healthcare Education Partnership, which comprises the Royal College of Nursing and City, Leicester and Ulster universities. This follows Ulster's recent announcement that it will shift five existing courses from its WebCT virtual-learning environment to UKeU's platform by January 2004.
The Open University and the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield Hallam and York are launching the first three UKeU courses this spring. Each course costs about £1 million to put online. Students will pay £9,000 for a York masters in public policy, £9,250 for a Sheffield Hallam MSc in information management and £2,600 for a joint Cambridge-Open University e-learning certificate. Student take-up has not been revealed.
UKeU received nearly 50 other course proposals from 35 higher education institutions. Most were at access, foundation or postgraduate levels.
UKeU plans to open an independent research centre to monitor and explore e-learning later this year. Jonathan Darby, architect of UKeU's e-learning platform, said that his team was working on making the technology as easy to use and student-centred as possible. "There are few examples of well-designed online courses. The idea of the UKeU's third-generation technology is to offer much more flexibility to allow universities and departments to tailor their own courses."
UKeU was launched in May 2001 with £62 million from the government and £5.6 million from Sun Microsystems. Its core revenue is expected to come from student fees.