Private struggles for recognition

August 20, 2004

AUSTRALIA. As the learning market looks set to go global, Times Higher writers check out how rogues are weeded out worldwide

Private universities are rare in Australia. The first - Bond University in Queensland - was established in 1988 by now-disgraced businessman Alan Bond. It is now under Japanese ownership after a takeover dispute with the University of Queensland.

And the web-based Greenwich University, which operated on the dependent territory of Norfolk Island from 1998-2002, awarded degrees by virtue of legislation passed by the island's "parliament", despite an independent assessment that found that it fell short of the standards required of Australian universities. Greenwich had no connection with the London university of the same name.

Market opportunities for the private sector are limited. State universities have exploited the billion-dollar international student market and Australia is one of the world's preferred destinations for a quality university education.

One private university that has faced difficulties is Melbourne University Private.

The Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee rejected an application for membership from MUP, as it was an offshoot of the University of Melbourne and not self-governing. The university lodged a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, claiming the decision breached the Trade Practices Act and was commercially damaging.

David Lloyd, MUP chief executive, said that, as a company, the university was not controlled by the parent institution. He said not being an AVCC member affected MUP's efforts to attract overseas students. Taiwan, for example, did not have MUP on its list of approved universities, which it had drawn up from the AVCC membership.

The AVCC has 38 members - the 37 vice-chancellors of public universities and the vice-chancellor of Bond University.

John Mullarvey, AVCC chief executive, would not comment on the MUP issue but said membership did not seem to affect institutions' ability to operate overseas.

MUP was formed in 1998 as an offshoot of the University of Melbourne. It was set up by former vice-chancellor Alan Gilbert, now head of Manchester University. It was supposed to generate millions of dollars by tapping into selected teaching and research activities of the parent institution.

After being granted provisional registration by the then Conservative state government in Victoria, MUP failed to attract enough business to survive and by 2001 faced a shortfall of A$4.5 million (£1.75 million).

A review that year found MUP had not fulfilled the research, teaching and other requirements needed to be accredited. It had no separate schools or academic staff and had not found any business partners.

After becoming virtually insolvent, MUP merged with the parent university's Melbourne Enterprises International, which runs English language colleges worldwide. This income stream saved the university.

To meet the protocols for a new university, MUP was restructured into three schools, with teaching and research a core element of their operations.

After a second review, the state Labor Government agreed in June last year that MUP could retain its higher education status for a further five years, but it had to meet strict conditions relating to research, academic staffing and reporting.

Mr Lloyd said MUP was making good progress and had recorded total revenues from its Australian and overseas operations of A$55 million for 2003.

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