Further dissent hits U21 venture

May 18, 2001

A second founding member of the global consortium Universitas 21 has expressed concern about its plans to establish an online university and has said it will not participate in the venture.

Following a decision last month by the University of Toronto to withdraw from the consortium over the e-university project, the University of Michigan last week said it was not prepared to license its name to another organisation, as would be required under the proposed agreement with US company Thomson Learning.

The U21 network includes 18 research-intensive universities in ten countries. It is negotiating with Thomson Learning to offer fee-paying postgraduate courses to students around the world.

Under the plans, Thomson Learning will design and deliver the courses and conduct assessments. The company that will operate the e-learning scheme will be able to use the names and logos of participating universities in issuing certificates and degrees.

Echoing the concerns of the University of Toronto, Gary D. Krenz, special counsel to Michigan's president, Lee C. Bollinger, said his university did not want its name used by an outside organisation.

"There were several key issues for us," Mr Krenz said. "One was that we simply were not prepared to license our name for degree-granting purposes under the circumstances of this agreement."

He said Michigan was also concerned that its academics would not be sufficiently involved in the development or quality control of the venture's programmes.

"We're also engaged in other approaches to e-learning, and we determined that our educational interests would likely be better served through those other activities than through the U21-Thomson joint venture."

He added that although Michigan would not take part in the joint venture, his university believed it was an "interesting experiment".

Meanwhile, the University of Virginia has decided to join the consortium. Peter W. Low, Viriginia's vice-president, said it was expanding its international programmes and the creation of U21 offered an opportunity "to join an established consortium of high-quality institutions".

"We are also looking to expand our involvement in distance learning," Dr Low said.

• Alan Gilbert, founding chair of U21, stood down at its annual board meeting in Boston. He is replaced by Sir Graeme Davies, principal of Glasgow University, who said U21 was in good heart and had had a "very positive" meeting in Boston.


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