Plug is pulled on e-university

April 30, 2004

The government's flagship e-university, hailed by ministers as the Open University for the 21st century, is to be dismantled after embarrassing performance failures, writes Phil Baty.

The UKeU, launched with a fanfare by the then education secretary David Blunkett at the height of the dot-com boom in 2000, was designed to market and deliver British university degrees across the world through the internet. But after an investment of £35 million of the £62 million it was allocated, UKeU recruited only 900 students worldwide.

After a board meeting last week, the Higher Education Funding Council for England confirmed it would press ahead with plans to "scale down and transfer" the UKeU's various activities.

"The board decided that in future Hefce funding should support the development of e-learning in universities and colleges, placing emphasis on public good objectives," it said.

While no decision has been made on what to do with the £13 million e-learning "platform", the electronic learning delivery system developed by Sun Microsystems, key activities will be transferred to as yet unnamed universities.

Sir Graeme Davies, former Hefce chief executive and vice-chancellor of London University, joined a growing list of experts who have criticised poor business planning.

He said: "The best laid business plans should be based on sound pedagogical principles and real, not perceived, needs of stakeholders."

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