Wednesday, December 09, 2009

U21: Another One Bites the Dust - Inside Higher Ed

Universitas Global 21, or U21, an online project for international education, changes ownership, with University of Melbourne, its principal backer stopping to fund the project. U21, which made profits first time this year after seven years of losses, will be taken over by Manipal Education, a big private education group in India, which has universities, colleges and corporate training interests.

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/12/09/u21#Comments: "Another One Bites the Dust"

The article cited here explains why, possibly, the U21 project failed. However, I do find the analysis quite one-sided, almost as if written by academics of the concerned universities, and would strongly recommend the comments to be taken into account to have a full perspective. I have followed other online education projects and would make some general comments why these projects tend to fail.

First, the universities do not have the nimbleness and customer focus necessary to run e-businesses. But these online universities are e-businesses essentially, and they need to have dynamism, flexibility and market-facing skills as any other e-business.

Second, these projects are secondary projects for sponsoring universities and they are indeed competing with themselves. Despite all the grand visions, everyone loves a student who comes over and pays more money. This is primarily why University of Phoenix is such a success, but University of Chicago can't make it.

Third, as apparent from the article itself, there were problems with the faculty. I guess the project got caught in the politics of academic life.

Fourth, there was arrogance. I have seen universities making this mistake about Asian customers time and again. Asia is no longer a hunting ground for Western Education. You could not just get students by doing nothing. The consumers are value conscious and there are asian universities making fast progress. One can see the arrogance in the pricing model, but I am certain that would have affected how the U21 treated its market in general - irresponsively.

Would Manipal Education make it work? Most possibly, they will. They are a business and they have the market focus. They are close to the customers. Let's say they have more reasons to make this work than the previous sponsors. The focus is changing though - that to corporate education. I think this is because Manipal is primarily an Indian company, and corporate training is exciting in India.

Is this the end of such projects then? Definitely not for Online Universities, which will only grow and become successful. But, yes, for such vanity projects, full of arrogance and assumptions about the target markets, this is probably the end of the road.

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