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CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2001

Global e-University Set to Open

Universitas 21, an international consortium of universities including McGill and British Columbia, is proceeding with controversial plans to develop an online university with Thomson Learning, a division of the Thomson Corporation. Thomson and the consortium have each pledged US $25 million for the project, which will be called U21global and will begin operations in January 2003.

U21global says it will initially offer English-language-based courses for professionals in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, but eventually intends to recruit students in Africa, China and Latin America.

Plans to press ahead with the online project have attracted considerable criticism from within the consortium itself. Three of the consortium's 18 members have already opted out of the project so far, and the University of Toronto has left the Universitas 21 group altogether. Some remaining universities have yet to commit money to the project.

Alan Gilbert, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne and chair of Universitas 21, said each of the 15 universities involved in U21global has agreed to pay at least $500,000, with some saying they will invest as much as $5 million. The two Canadian participants are McGill and UBC.

The University of Michigan, University of Edinburgh, and Peking University have all declined to join U21global, citing concerns about how the consortium would use the names and logos of member universities.

"We weren't willing to license our name in this comprehensive way for granting degrees for that entity," said Gary D. Krenz, special counsel to the president at the University of Michigan. "We also had some questions about whether we would be able to be sufficiently involved in the development of the courses and, more importantly, in the assessment of the courses."

Sheldon Levy, vice-president government and institutional relations for the University of Toronto, said the project was moving too quickly for his institution to decide whether to join.

"We had our own internal process that we had to go through and respect," said Levy. "It was never a question of was U21 good or bad."

Earlier this year, CAUT and its sister organizations in the United States, Australia, Britain, and New Zealand wrote to Gilbert and the Universitas 21 network calling for a moratorium on any agreement with Thomson because of concerns about contracting out course design, content development and assessment — tasks that should remain with faculty.