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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2000

NewsCorp Targets Education

Media baron Rupert Murdoch and his giant News Corporation company have reached a deal with the 18-member university network Universitas 21 (which includes McGill University, the University of Toronto, and the University of British Columbia) to offer online programs and courses.

Murdoch told a press conference in Melbourne, Australia that NewsCorp will establish a joint-venture company with Universitas 21 (U21) through the company's London-based subsidiary, TSL Education Ltd. The new venture company could begin offering university courses, aimed at recent graduates and those already working, over the Internet as early as next year.

"News Corporation has taken a strategic decision to enter the distance learning market using our global distribution platforms, our advanced technologies, and our marketing reach," Murdoch said. "A mutually profitable partnership between leading providers in higher education and one of the world's leading media companies is a very strong proposition."

"Universitas 21 is investing major intellectual property in the partnership," added Alan Gilbert, Universitas 21 chair and vice chancellor of the University of Melbourne. "What we are offering is the U21 brand which derives from the multi-jurisdictional authority and legitimacy of the various member institutions. Properly branded, advertised, and promoted, it will be hugely powerful, much more so than any individual university trying to franchise its brand around the world."

Under the proposed venture, groups or individuals anywhere around the globe with an interest in developing online programs will be invited to do so, but the 18 member institutions of Universitas 21 will provide degrees and oversee the assessment for all courses offered.

The announcement, the latest in the drive toward the online com-mercialization of education, has many observers worried. In New Zealand, the president and executive director of the Association of University Staff met with the vice-chancellor of Auckland University – New Zealand's member of Universitas 21. They were told the proposal is only at the memorandum of understanding stage and that any participation of the university would have to be approved by the senate.

AUS exectutive director Rob Crozier noted that staff at Auckland have serious reservations about the amount of effective input they would have. Staff pointed to the appalling track record of Rupert Murdoch in suppressing freedom of speech and critical journalism.