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MPs condemn e-Uni disaster - again

'Disgraceful waste', etc

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The commons education select committee has roundly condemned the UK's failed e-University as a "disgraceful waste", confirming the 2004 opinion of Dr Ian Gibson, Labour MP and chair of science and technology committee at the Commons, that UKeU was a "shameful waste" of public money, and an "absolute disaster".

As we previously reported, UKeU was intended to act as a portal, selling other universities' online degree programmes. It was a joint venture between the government, the universities that signed up and Sun Microsystems, which provided the support platform.

The e-Uni was canned last year having cost the taxpayer £50m but with a roster of just 900 students. According to the BBC, Chief executive John Beaumont was "paid a bonus of £44,914, despite a failure to bring in private sector backers". The committee condemned this as "morally indefensible".

However, the government claimed that the project had "improved understanding". A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman claimed UKeU was "ambitious and ground-breaking", and added: "UK e-Universities was not the only organisation to have lost out on private sector investment in the collapse of the dotcom boom."

The committee concluded that those behind the venture had caught a nasty dose of internet over-enthusiasm. Initial projections forecast 250,000 students within 10 years translating into a £110m profit. In the event, £4.2m went on marketing while a cool £14m went on getting the thing to work - to the benefit of just 200 students.

Committee chairman Barry Sheerman declared: "UK e-University was a terrible waste of public money. The senior executives failed to interest any private investors and showed an extraordinary over-confidence in their ability to attract students to the scheme."

In conclusion, the committee said that the government should "learn the lessons from this disaster" when splashing out cash on future projects. ®

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