Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report

1 Introduction

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 colleges—in 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 the UK.

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.

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