US: Universitas 21 in dire straits

Of all the projects to build international online universities, U21 Global might have been the most ambitious, writes Steve Kolowich for Inside Higher Ed. Universitas 21, the international consortium of highly reputed research universities that opened U21 Global in 2001, predicted the programme would enrol 500,000 students and be netting $325 million annually by 2011. But the initiative has been fraught with financial losses over its eight-year run, and currently enrols only 5,000 students. A number of affiliated universities have walked away, including four in the last two years.

Now U21 Global is reassessing its educational goals. The University of Melbourne, the programme's top university partner, last week said it would stop putting money into the programme, which broke even for the first time this year. The university will retain the $15 million in equity it has already invested, but Universitas 21 will relinquish its controlling interest in the underachieving project to the Manipal Group, an Indian firm that deals in education as well as health care, manufacturing, and financial services. Melbourne's announcement came a week after the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, a British-based think tank, released a report including U21 Global among a number of failed attempts by high-profile institutions to build profitable online degree programmes.
Full report on the Inside Higher Ed site