1. In February 2000, the then Secretary of State,
David Blunkett, announced the ambitious project to establish the
e-University as a single vehicle for the delivery of UK universities'
HE programmes over the internet. The Government allocated £62
million to the HEFCE for the project over the period 2001-2004.
2. UK e-Universities Worldwide Ltd (UKeU) and e-Learning
Holding Company Ltd were established in 2001. In September 2003
UKeU launched its first programmes, attracting just 900 students
against a target of 5,600. On 25 February 2004, the HEFCE Board
decided that in future HEFCE funding should support the development
of e-learning in universities and collegesin effect the
HEFCE terminated UKeU. £50 million out of the Government's
allocation of £62 million has been spent on the project.
3. The Committee announced its inquiry into the e-University
project on 16 June. Our purpose was to account for the expenditure
to date (£50 million), to clarify why the UKeU venture failed,
what lessons could be learnt from the failure of the project,
and to consider the future for e-learning and e-Universities in
4. Over the course of the inquiry, we took evidence
from Dr Kim Howells MP, Minister for Higher Education; David Young,
Chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE);
Sir Howard Newby, Chief Executive of the HEFCE; Sir Anthony Cleaver,
former Chairman of UKeU; Mr John Beaumont, former Chief Executive
of UKeU; Sir Brian Fender, former Chairman of the e-Learning Holding
Company Ltd; Dr Adrian Lepper, Secretary to the Board, e-Learning
Holding Company Ltd; Mr Leslie Stretch, Vice President of Sun
Microsystems UK Ltd and Mr David Beagle, Account Manager of UKeU
project, Sun Microsystems UK Ltd.
5. One issue about the conduct of this inquiry caused
us concern. Meetings of select committees are televised at the
request of broadcasters. The first meeting in this inquiry, with
David Young and Sir Howard Newby of HEFCE, during which some serious
criticisms were made about the way in which UKeU was run, was
televised. The second meeting, at which Sir Anthony Cleaver and
John Beaumont of UKeU responded to those criticisms, was not.
Therefore the criticisms gained wide currency but the responses
did not. We regard this as extremely unsatisfactory and it offends
against natural justice. We recommend that the way in which
decisions to televise select committee meetings are made is reviewed
with a view to giving Committees a more active role in the process.