The e-university needs to be rethought to make it more attractive to investors — but partners are waiting in the wings.
Speaking at a meeting of the Association of University Administrators at the University of Warwick, Mike Thorne, vice-principal of Napier University, criticised the business model for the e-university as unappealing to investors.
He said: "I can't see a single reason why a commercial company would want to invest in the e-university."
The business model has roles for the private sector as investors, partners and customers, as well as suppliers of content, learning support, technology platforms and other services.
Sir John Daniel, vice-chancellor of the Open University, said: "There will be people wanting to help with the infrastructure but not many putting money on the table. I see the e-university as a public sector venture."
Pearson, the media and education group, is interested in becoming involved but not necessarily as an investor. It is in discussions with the Higher Education Funding Council about the form its involvement might take.
The BBC might also become involved. A spokeswoman for the organisation said: "The e-university is an interesting idea that has some fit with the BBC's aspirations to develop online learning for people at all stages in their lives.
"Any possible partnership role for the BBC would need to cover its possible role in terms of content creation, technical expertise, and reputation as a trusted provider of education materials in all media and its interest in developing an international market.
She added: "If we were to become involved, it would be in parallel with our Open University partnership as well as any other partnerships that we might develop to deliver 'learning journeys'."
The deadline for comments on the proposed business model for the e-university is November 22.
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