London's elite institutions have formed an informal partnership in a bid to run Britain's e-university.
Led by University College London, the partnership includes Imperial College, the London School of Economics and the London Business School. The loose consortium has held talks with other potential members and has invited the universities of Oxford and Cambridge to join.
"We are putting together institutions with a similar brand image and market. We are interested in developing highly interactive, research-led continuing professional development and masters courses," said Chris Llewellyn Smith, provost of UCL.
Professor Llewellyn Smith added that the consortium was an informal one and that new members with the right characteristics could still join: "It is very preliminary and it is not an exclusive list."
Rees Rawlings, incoming pro-rector for educational quality at Imperial, said:
"We see this as building on a number of developments over a range of disciplines while maintaining our research-led approach to learning."
Neil Gregory, head of the research and project development division at the LSE, said: "The LSE is very interested in working with a group of universities with the highest international standing, committed to similar teaching philosophies."
A partnership of elite institutions is just one of the models being considered by the funding council for the e-university. Membership of its steering committee includes representatives from all parts of the sector.
Alice Frost, the e-university project manager, said that the model was for a core membership of institutions with worldwide renown. A more detailed model will emerge in July.
The exact nature of the e-university was discussed at last week's conference on the business of borderless education held by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.
Jonathan Darby, director of technology-assisted lifelong learning at Oxford, said: "Is the funding council looking to bring together a comprehensive group - an Oxbridge, a red-brick, a new university and the Open University - or an elite group of institutions that think and act in the same way? There needs to be a clear signal from Hefce in the near future."
Comments on the plans for the e-university were due at the funding council this week.
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