Oz turns its back on cyber institute

January 19, 2001

A former Hawaii-based distance education provider that claimed to be Australia's third private university has failed a federal education department assessment.

Greenwich University was established on the Australian territory of Norfolk Island more than two years ago. It had begun offering online degrees. The island's legislative assembly passed an act formally recognising it as a university, but after Greenwich declared itself to be Australia's third fully accredited private university, higher education officials became concerned. The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee and critics in the Labor Party questioned how an institution could be given legislative approval without the usual checks undertaken by state governments.

At the request of commonwealth, state and territory education ministers, a committee was set up to review Greenwich's operations. It found that the standard of courses, quality assurance mechanisms and academic leadership failed to meet those expected of Australian universities.

Federal education minister David Kemp told parliament that the review committee had recommended that Greenwich should not be listed on the register of the Australian qualifications framework. Dr Kemp said Greenwich could reapply once deficiencies identified by the committee were addressed.

Any such application would be referred to the Australian Universities Quality Agency, which would conduct a "whole-of-institution" audit, Dr Kemp said. He said prospective students should be advised that Australia could not vouch for the quality of universities not listed on the registers of the AQF.

"The principle of caveat emptor therefore applies, not only to prospective students but also to employers or other tertiary education institutions accepting graduates from a university not listed on the AQF," Dr Kemp said.

Labor senator Kim Carr, Greenwich's most outspoken parliamentary opponent, claimed the university had travelled around the Pacific trying to find a home. "They were rejected in New Zealand, they were rejected in Victoria, they were rejected in Hawaii and they were rejected in California," Senator Carr said.

But a Greenwich spokesman said that despite repeated requests, neither the university nor the island government had seen the report of the review and the university did not know how it had failed to meet the standards. The spokesman said that it was the Australian government that had proposed, in 1997, that Greenwich be established on Norfolk Island, to boost its economy.

In drawing up the legislation, the island government had used university accreditation guidelines that had been supplied by the federal education department. As education was a joint responsibility between the Norfolk Island and Australian governments, both had to be involved before legislation could be passed.

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