Issues in Organizing for the New
Network and Virtual Forms of
University of Alberta
The story of Universitas 21 is one that many in the field of distance education watch carefully. Universitas 21 is a group of large and influential universities formed for the purpose, in the words of its Web site, of establishing a “framework for member universities to pursue agendas that would be beyond their individual capabilities, capitalizing on the established reputation and operational reach of each member. ” The resulting network includes among its goals the development of the following: international curricula; quality assurance for international enrollments; instruction, assessment, and certification of students; an internationally recognized brand for a global network of high-quality universities; and partnership opportunities for major new providers, including corporate universities. The 18 members are from 10 countries and include the Universities of Michigan, Nottingham, Melbourne, and Toronto.
Various international activities have been developing in the partnership, but one in particular involves an e-learning initiative. On November 20, 2000, Thomson Learning, a division of Thomson Corporation, announced an agreement with Universitas 21 to offer degrees, diplomas, and certificates to students completing courses over the Internet (“Thomson Learning, ” 2000). Thomson Learning would be responsible for course design, content development, testing and assessment, student database management, and language translation for the project. Thomson Corporation had already been devoting major resources to its e-learning initiatives www.thomsonlearning.com and www.thomson.com. The announcement appeared to be part of an effort to extend the collaborative goals of Universitas 21. However, three days after the announcement, the University of Toronto announced rather abruptly that it was not ready to support the venture (Shecter, 2000). The university stated that it was indeed a member of Universitas 21 but that its membership did not imply a relationship with Thomson learning and the distance-learning venture. A spokesperson at the University of Toronto said it was concerned about its brand. For its part, Thomson was clear that it was seeking to associate itself with Universitas 21 because of its brand recognition.