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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
My Lords, what representations have the Government received from universities and the private sector since 2000?
My Lords, I am not entirely certain that I understand the question asked by the noble Baroness. I am not aware of any representations per se. All bar one of the institutions were part of the holding company for UKeU and, therefore, were involved in the process in that sense.
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.
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?
My Lords, I could not agree more. This is a critical part of our future, not only through curriculum online within schools and the opportunities that that gives but in terms of language learning and other studies where being able to deal directly with other countries is critical.
My Lords, I do not have information on what numbers were originally projected in 2000 when HEFCE put forward the proposals, but I am very happy to obtain as much information as I can and write to the noble Baroness.