Wrangling over the legal details of a £70 million partnership between commercial interests and the e-university has delayed the venture by at least a month.
Private companies are being asked to invest some £35 million in the e-university in return for a share in any future profits. The funding councils will match this, with further funding to come as the e-university expands. Funding chiefs predict that the e-university could make an operating profit within three years.
But negotiations have snagged on legal issues. While funding chiefs are confident that the problems will be ironed out within a matter of weeks, the hold-up is affecting other organisations - such as the BBC - that are waiting to join the consortium.
A spokeswoman for the BBC said: "There is a delay but it is very positive on both sides. The e-university has to sort out the commercial partners before public sector organisations can get involved. While these discussions are rumbling on, we are whole-heartedly involved in developing pilots."
The e-university will comprise a holding company, consisting of university partners and representative organisations, and an operating company formed as a commercial venture between the holding company and the private sector.
Last week, the "e-learning holding company" was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee. Some 165 universities and colleges accepted the invitation to become members. Eight institutions have yet to respond.
Its directors will be nominated by Universities UK, the Standing Conference of Principals and the Higher Education Funding Council for England on behalf of the funding councils.
The first students are due to enrol on pilot courses delivered via the e-university in April 2002, with full entry in autumn 2002.
- Universities UK and the Higher Education Funding Council for England are to establish a working group on intellectual property rights in e-learning programmes.