Celebrating five eventful years of University World News

University World News has come a long way since 14 October 2007, when we nervously hit the Send button on the first edition. The e-newspaper has achieved success in reaching ever-more academics and higher education professionals – 40,000 in 150 countries now – and has earned a reputation for quality journalism and for being truly international.

We are celebrating today, virtually.

Our publication owned and produced by a global network of journalists is unusual, and in a number of ways it is a ‘media mirror’ to the kinds of changes that have been sweeping higher education in countries around the world.

We are different because there are very few international weekly news publications – and no others in higher education – that are privately owned by those who produce them.

We have struggled on for five years with investment capital of a mere US$42,000 from 26 mostly journalist shareholders, many of whom have provided months or years of voluntary work to get the e-paper to the position of being able to pay, albeit not richly.

This is an extraordinary level of commitment to the ideal of a journalist-owned publication that provides reliable, important and independent information and analysis for absolutely free.

A media mirror to higher education

The media mirror we provide to higher education lies in our international focus, free access, network and online operation.

The reason University World News exists is because the experienced journalists who created the e-paper knew that higher education institutions everywhere, while serving local communities and national needs, were increasingly looking outwards to the world, embracing higher education internationalisation and driving the burgeoning knowledge economy.

As we said right at the outset: “With international competition and collaboration growing apace, it has never been more important for higher education managers, researchers, scholars and public officials to keep abreast of developments in their field – and in rival and partner institutions worldwide.”

This was truer than we imagined, and increasingly so, a fact borne out by the moves by fellow higher education publications in recent years to expand their international coverage.

As with the open educational resources and open access movements – and most recently the explosion of massive open online courses – University World News is committed to free access to the e-paper.

We want anybody anywhere to be able to access the information and analysis we produce, with the least possible effort. This is important to our mission to be truly international, offering the same service to people all over the world, whatever their socio-economic status, political environment or geographical location.

As a network of journalists University World News reflects the growing practice of academics especially but also higher education professionals to optimise their work and productivity through international (or national or regional), mostly online, networks.

Finally, we are a virtual operation, reflecting the move by higher education (as well as the public and private sectors) to place more of their information, services and research online.

We have no head office, but operate from work and home offices scattered around the world.

Our founding editors are in Australia and South Africa. Our board, finance director and commentary editor are in the UK, where the company is registered. Our MD is in Denmark and advertising is based in Canada.

We have journalists in more than 50 countries. We communicate through email and social media, and meet on MSN Messenger and Skype. Indeed, we are probably one of global higher education’s most international organisations.

Our people, work and achievements

In hindsight, the decision to launch University World News was audacious and a little crazy. We were full of ideas and ideals and ambitions but had very little money, and for a long time operated on the proverbial smell of an oil rag, produced by the journalists who had agreed to join the (ad)venture and volunteer their experience and time.

The first edition of the e-paper was sent to a few thousand academics, professionals and officials whose emails our journalists had gathered by mining their contact books.

To start with we had around 10,000 visitors to the University World News website a month, and 50,000 pages viewed. Last month we had 70,000 unique visitors, 3.5 million ‘hits’ and 330,000 page views.

Five years ago we had 3,000 registered readers; today we have 40,000. Our biggest readerships are in Europe (9,000) followed by Africa (7,400), North America (7,300), Asia (4,500) and Oceania (2,200) with others in the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean. There are 7,000 readers who did not say where they are when they registered.

In the five years, University World News has published 9,500 articles, or nearly 160 a month, more than half of them original articles produced by our journalists or the academics and professionals who write for us, the rest in the Round-up section that provides readers with links to other important higher education stories from around the world.

Editorially, we have steadily grown and improved. Five years ago we had some two dozen journalists; today we have more than 70 who write for us. Kicking off with co-editors Geoff Maslen in Australia and myself in South Africa, we now have regional editors for Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and the Americas.

In the words of Asia Editor Yojana Sharma: “When I joined University World News as Asia Editor in 2010, there was little regular coverage from the region with reporters in just four countries (China, Indonesia, India and Vietnam).

“We now have a high quality network of bilingual specialist education writers in a dozen countries. Our on-the-ground reporters have been well placed to report on legislative changes, the growth of private education, branch campuses and regional issues.

“Asia has emerged as an important force in global higher education and we have been at the forefront of charting that with strong analysis and features as well as news from the point of view of the region itself rather than, as is so common, through a Western prism.”

European coverage was the anchor rock of the e-paper to start with, as it is home to a third of our shareholder journalists. “We have a wealth of senior education journalists writing for us from Europe, which helps us to tease out the true significance for universities of the stories we are breaking,” said Brendan O'Malley, Europe and Middle East editor.

“It has never been more important to cover developments in the Middle East, where a number of countries are investing heavily to improve the quality of higher education they offer but the wider backdrop is one of sweeping political change, conflict and challenges to academic freedom – and even to their safety in some places."

In the past year, America’s Editor Philip Fine has worked hard to expand coverage from North America to Latin America. “Having a group of writers focusing on the Americas has given the paper some great issues to look at,” he said.

“Those never-ending student strikes this year in Chile and Quebec, for example, showed how governments can be forced to look at changing their approach to higher education funding.”

Our editorial coverage of Africa has been strong, and enabled by generous grants from the Ford Foundation aimed at improving reporting on higher education across the continent and increasing understanding of higher education in Africa, on the continent and internationally.

Editorial has also been supported through a partnership with the Centre for Higher Education Transformation in Cape Town. And, more recently, The Carnegie Corporation of New York has provided a grant to produce the series “Thoughts and Experiences of African University Leaders”, with the aim of supporting university leadership development.

Since Mandy Garner joined University World News as Commentary editor, we have given a strong voice to academics and have published articles from the world’s renowned higher education researchers as well as vice-chancellors, government ministers and leaders of international organisations.

Last week European Union Education Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and former Irish president Mary McAleese joined the growing pool of global thought leaders who have written for us.

The business of University World News

From a shaky start, the financial position of University World News has also strengthened considerably. Since joining the newspaper in 2009, Canada-based advertising manager Stephanie de Bono has steadily grown income through advertising sales.

The e-paper has also been helped to survive through grants and through income generated by special report writing and media partnerships that also reflect our growing reputation worldwide – with AsiaEngage, the International Finance Corporation, the Talloires Network, the OECD and UNESCO.

Last year we co-hosted the Worldviews International Conference on Media and Higher Education with Inside Higher Ed, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. The event in Toronto was a success and will be repeated next year.

MD Ard Jongsma and board chair Brendan O’Malley are working to develop the business of University World News into the future.

“After five years of incredible dedication from a relatively small group of journalists, we have built the structure of our unique news service and captured the global audience we aimed at back in 2007,” said Jongsma.

“Listening to our readers, in the years ahead we will expand into other, related services, such as specific partner news channels and stronger regional profiles."

The publication’s survival is not yet assured – but you can help, by simply encouraging colleagues to register for free as readers via our website, and urging your departments and institutions to advertise in University World News.

Karen MacGregor
Global Editor