Top unis link in distance battle

September 10, 1999


Twenty-six top universities in the United States and Canada have united to promote their distance-learning courses in a single giant online catalogue for students in an effort to stave off big competitors.

The schools, which include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania, will continue offering their programmes independently; applicants will register with them directly, and credits and degrees will be awarded by the individual institutions. But university administrators expect their new joint website, launched this month, to lure more students than they were able to attract separately. The site is called; R1 stands for "research 1," the designation used for the nation's largest doctorate-granting research institutions.

All of the participating schools also belong to the new academically oriented Internet 2, whose higher-speed connections allow more interactive options - an advantage in the increasingly crowded markets within the rapidly expanding distance-learning industry.

Internet 2 "will have a dramatic effect on the number and quality of distance education programmes," said Richard Larson, director of MIT's Center for Advanced Educational Services.

Almost as soon as the idea was announced with 14 participating schools, another 12 signed up, said Colleen Rubart, a spokeswoman for the University of Washington, which hosts the project.

"We have had calls from all over the world," Ms Rubart said. "We were a little overwhelmed, but it's just thrilling that there are so many universities interested."

US schools are clearly worried about the growing competition from such large online course providers as the United Kingdom's Open University, California Virtual University,, the Southern Regional Electronic Campus, and Western Governors University.

They are pushing the idea that, by signing up with large, prestigious universities, "the distance learner can access some of the most significant and cutting-edge distance learning programs," said David Szatmary, acting vice-provost at the University of Washington.

Other institutions on the website are New York, Columbia, Cornell, Indiana, Johns Hopkins, Michigan State, Rutgers, Vanderbilt and Pennsylvania State universities, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the universities of British Columbia, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Buffalo, Colorado, Florida, Missouri and Nebraska.

Handful: Dish is a palm-sized communications device for 11 to 14-year-old girls, designed by Sandra Beckstead, Catherine Clark, Sandra von Haselberg and Marianne Jefferys, graduate students on the MA design for interactive media course at Middlesex University. Dish allows users to send and receive handwritten messages, take and store digital photos, exchange photos and suggest clothes swops, and select groups of friends for closed information-sharing using special physical plugs. The device was unveiled at the students' annual show at the Candid Gallery in London last week. Details of Dish and other student projects, including digital arts, electronic arts and digital architecture are on the show website,

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