Virtualization of Research Universities
Raising the Right Questions to Address
Key Functions of the Institution
The popular term virtual university is widely used for a vast variety of phenomena (Baumgartner, 2000). Some use this label for institutions that merely put their course catalogs online, some for universities that offer online materials for traditional courses or even a few online courses within otherwise traditional curricula. In other cases, the term is used for Web-based umbrella organizations that cover online activities of some higher-education institutions, for alternative providers of higher education, or even for organizations that merely act as brokers for online courses or curricula. Also a very few institutions have specialized in exclusively providing online distance-learning higher education. This variety of phenomena to which the term is applied results in a confusing picture of what a “virtual university” might be. Additionally, the term is commonly used with a strong bias toward education, often reducing e-learning to Web-based education, while simultaneously neglecting other activities of traditional research universities, which go far beyond higher education. And, last but not least, the term suggests something similar to an ultimate state of an ideal organizational form that nobody has yet clearly envisioned, but which all higher-education institutions will have to resemble in the near future. As Harley (2002) observes, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are frequently regarded as promising solutions for a triad of pressing issues (costs, increasing access, and quality), while clear reference models are missing.
These limitations are not only unsatisfactory from a theoretical point of view; they also might mislead practical choices for the implementation of ICTs, if