Scottish Knowledge, which exports university and college expertise in education and training, has signed a global e-university alliance with Shell International, to give the company's 75,000 employees across the world access to online education and training. Regy Loknes of Shell said the company spends tens of millions of pounds a year to keep its staff at the leading edge of knowledge and work practices. "The development of [Shell's] Global Virtual University will allow our employees access to a huge range of accredited education and training," he said.
Steve Beere, chief executive of Scottish Knowledge, which brings together 21 higher education institutions, said the Shell deal provided a single entry point into one of the world's largest energy companies. This created opportunities for institutions to pool their expertise in areas such as oil and gas engineering, law, business, management and IT. He added that the deal paved the way for Scotland's higher education institutions to take a leading role in the development of e-university services. Scottish institutions were in a particularly strong position in the energy sector because of the level of knowlege and expertise they had built up over the years from involvement in the North Sea oil and gas operations. Scottish Knowledge had made investment in distance-learning courses for the energy sector one of its strategic priorities, Mr Beere said. "I'm confident that our universities can win tens of millions of pounds of business each year, within the next few years, from the e-learning opportunities that Scottish Knowledge is creating," Mr Beere said.
But he warned higher education institutions that they must be prepared to embrace the opportunities. "It is crucial for Scotland's universities to recognise what analysts around the world are saying regarding e-universities," he said. "Traditional campus-based universities will be increasingly challenged by a variety of new media delivery techniques, the increasing emphasis changing from teacher to learner-centred education and the need for more flexibility in delivery to suit the needs of students. Our aim is to work with our universities and our customers to meet these challenges." Scottish institutions needed to react quickly, given the prospective "tidal wave" of competition from other countries, he added.
Scottish Knowledge was working with a number of foreign institutions establishing virtual universities, which had student enrolment targets over the next decade of more than 100,000 students, Mr Beere said. It had the expertise and business backing to deliver global alliances between higher education and industry, he said, giving Scottish universities a head start. In February, Scottish Knowledge signed a Pounds 3.5 million deal with News International, parent company of The THES, extending its global marketing and distribution network.