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Flagship UKeU e-learning project faces major restructuring

Following disappointing student numbers and serious difficulty in raising private finance, the UK e-Universities has been asked by government funders to come up with a restructuring plan before April. The emphasis should shift from commercial provision of courses to supporting e-learning development in the state universities.

The original intent for the UKeU operation and its holding company was to market and deliver e-learning courses developed in conventional UK universities to the broader international market. It was to have public-private partnership funding, which means that the £ 62 million originally allocated to the project by the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) was to be matched by private investment.

That kind of finance is hard to come by these days, and to make matters worse, enrollments in the first year of operation -2003/2004- numbered 900, far fewer than expected.

Part of the problem there was that many of the students who were targeted by the UKeU got on planes and came to UK campuses for traditionally taught courses. The universities themselves also seem to favor course delivery styles that aren't pure e-learning. Combinations of e-learning with lectures and work based learning ('blended learning') are felt to be better.

Lastly, the international market for e-learning doesn't seem to have developed as quickly as envisaged in the dying days of the dot com bubble.

The big questions that remain concern the future of the UKeU operations. Sir Howard Newby, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said that 'A main concern is that the new arrangements should protect the interests of existing students' and that there should be continuity for colloborative projects.

Also, the UKeU should re-focus from commercial objectives to the public good.

What specifically will happen to the ca. £9 million learning environment the UKeU developed with Sun, or how the support for e-learning development is to take place will all be decided by a HEFCE meeting on the 22nd of April. UKeU's restructuring plan will then be considered.

One immediate lesson that has already been learned by HEFCE is the shift away from pure e-learning and towards blended learning. This will be taken into account when determining e-learning strategy with the newly established Higher Education Academy and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC- CETIS' funders).

Source: HEFCE press release

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