The e-university could make an operating profit within three years of its 2002 launch but private investment is vital, funding chiefs acknowledged this week.
Start-up costs have been revised downwards to £75 million - but this figure remains above the £14 million earmarked so far. More than £35 million will be sought from the private sector. Funding chiefs are drawing up a prospectus to help raise the cash.
The university will seek a "risk-sharing partnership" with technology providers to design, build and operate the platform in return, for example, for a share of the fee income generated by students. A similar relationship will be sought with companies that want to develop design tools.
Other parties will develop content, although most content will be developed through universities. Interested parties could include private content-providers such as Pearson and public bodies such as the BBC and the British Library.
John Green, secretary of Imperial College's medical school, has set up a company called e-u consortium that aims to broker deals between partners interested in setting up e-learning ventures. He warned of the difficulties in establishing partnerships, saying: "There are examples of where the failure to build effective consortia has resulted in projects losing their strategic direction.
"The (e-u consortium) company believes one party cannot drive the formation of partnerships without causing distrust, especially where the cultures of the potential partners - as well as their aims and objectives - are different."
The e-university will take the form of a holding company, owned by the higher education sector. It will be run by a profit-making operating company owned by institutions and partners in the private sector, under licence from the holding company. The operating company will be advised by a committee for academic quality composed of representatives from higher education.
Further profit-making subsidiary companies could be created, for example to provide the necessary technology.
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