Sept. 7-13, 2001
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University joins global group to plan long-distance education

A Network for International Higher Education

By Matt Kelly

The University is going global by moving into cyberspace.

Universitas 21, an 18-school, international consortium of which U.Va. is a member, is going into business with Thomson Learning to provide degree programs over the Internet. The arrangement was announced in a press conference at the Rotunda Wednesday.

The consortium, which U.Va. joined in May, involves schools from Australia, China, Singapore, New Zealand, Sweden, England and Scotland. U.Va. and the University of Michigan are the only United States schools.

Former Vice President and Provost Peter W. Low, who will continue to work with U21 after returning to the Law faculty, said the new arrangement will allow U.Va. to learn about distance education.

The new corporation, U21Global, formed by the majority of consortium schools and the Thomson Corp., will offer courses and award MBA degrees over the World Wide Web. Low said U21Global plans to target Asian audiences initially, providing English language instruction at first, then adding Mandarin. Next the group will target South America, with courses in Spanish.

U21Global would issue the degree, citing all the universities involved, but Low stressed that U21 could not use U.Va.’s name or logo, or that of any other school, alone. Many specific details have yet to be worked out.

U21Global, which is owned 50 percent by Thomson and 50 percent by the consortium, would hire its own teachers and develop its own curriculum. Oversight and accreditation will be provided by U21Pedagogica, another corporation to be formed and owned by the participating universities. U.Va. President John T. Casteen III will be on the board of directors of U21Pedagogica, which will approve all the courses and teachers’ credentials.

The venture will cost $50 million, of which Thomson is contributing half. The rest of the money comes from the participating schools, with U.Va.’s share set at $1 million, to be paid out over three years. This is the University’s only financial commitment so far, Low said, and future expenditures will be examined individually.

The principal benefit to the University will be to understand long-distance learning from the ground up. Low believes that instruction over the Internet will be a major wave of the future and this venture gives the University an opportunity to catch that wave and have access to the technology of distance learning.

“There will be dramatic successes [in this field],” Low said while acknowledging that some will fail as well. “Thomson has the capital, the drive and the know-how. I think this is the best opportunity to participate.”

The University will have access to the technology of distance learning.
“We have just joined a young organization,” said Low. “It’s just opened its doors.”

Among the eventual benefits Low sees for U.Va. is student and faculty exchanges with universities around the world.

“We want to be players, to learn how to do it well for the long-term,” Low said.


© Copyright 2001 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

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