Universities Online

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 14th June 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative 2:30 pm, 14th June 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the online university UKeU is being dismantled.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Education and Science), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, the board of the Higher Education Funding Council for England decided in February 2004 to seek a restructuring of the activities and services of eUniversities. This decision was made in the light of the results of a review of the plans of UK eUniversities Worldwide, the company taking forward the project. This review noted the changes in the global financial market and the fact that student recruitment had not met planned targets in the first year.

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, can she explain to the House how the Government got it so badly wrong? Why did they invest £62 million of taxpayers' money on a projection that hundreds of thousands of students would apply when I gather that only 900 applied, resulting in a cost of about £44,000 per student?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Education and Science), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, the Question would be more easily understood by looking back to 2000 when the proposals were put forward by the Higher Education Funding Council in what was felt to be an appropriate move to consider the role of e-learning worldwide. The noble Baroness is right about the numbers and costs. Indeed, it was for those reasons that the Higher Education Funding Council asked for the review and took the decisions it did.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Shadow Minister, Education & Skills

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what has happened to the e-learning platform developed by Sun Microsystems, which I gather was a very substantial part of the project and which has been part of the cause of the problems that the project has hit?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Education and Science), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I am not entirely certain that it was a substantial part; certainly, it was a substantial investment in the learning platform. Noble Lords may know that the decision was taken to create a new platform as opposed to building on any other platform. My understanding is that discussions are currently under way with those who might seek to develop the platform further.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Shadow Minister, Public Services, Health & Education, Deputy Chief Whip, Parliament, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, what representations have the Government received from universities and the private sector since 2000?

Photo of Lord Tanlaw Lord Tanlaw Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister say whether one of the partial reasons for failure was the lack of accessibility of broadband to people who live in country districts, certainly in south-west Scotland and elsewhere?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Education and Science), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I cannot give a specific answer to the noble Lord. What I can say is that this was aimed primarily at worldwide markets. The noble Lord will, of course, include Scotland in the worldwide market. We know that 38 countries were involved in studying online, from which we have 900 students, so there has been some attempt to develop this in a worldwide context.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

My Lords, despite the difficulties with this project, to which my noble friend Lady Perry and the Minister referred, does she not agree that learning online and the related training for industrial subjects is very important and needs to be encouraged to the maximum extent?

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative

My Lords, what market research was done and by whom, which resulted in this projection of hundreds of thousands of applicants?