Another enterprising university disaster
A few years ago, Monash University was being described as the first global university‘ on the strength of its multiple campuses in Australia, Malaysia, the UK and South Africa. Along with Alan Gilbert of Melbourne, then VC David Robinson was one of the leading promoters of the idea of the ‘enterprising university’. In practice this meant using the public endowment of the university to establish private, for-profit offshoots, an agenda that is still being pushed vigorously by Tim Dodd and the AFR Higher Education Section. Robinson aimed for a campus on every continent, while Gilbert pushed the idea that the Internet could be used to bring academic handloom weavers into the factory age, an idea embodied in U21 Global.
Now Monash’s African operation is described as a money pit. Exactly the same could be said of U21Global, a $US50 million enterprise which has so far produced nothing more than a very ordinary online MBA to add to the hundreds already on the market.
The question of why, outside narrowly vocational training, for-profit educational ventures are almost invariably unsuccessful is a complex and difficult one. But the facts speak for themselves. From an Australian perspective,an equally important question is why university managers (mostly former academics with no obvious qualifications for a business career) entrusted with large sums of public money have been allowed to dissipate it in money-losing speculative investments.
fn1. Robinson got sacked a couple of years ago over a plagiarism scandal. As I pointed out in a very early post, this was hypocritical behavior on the part of a University council that backed his anti-academic agenda. “University managers have done their best to suppress the assumptions of free exchange of information in which notions like ‘plagiarism’ make sense. In the brave new world of ‘intellectual property’, you nail down what you can of your own ideas and appropriate anything from the common pool that hasn’t already been grabbed. The former vice-chancellor of Monash seemed entirely suited to the new world, and it was hypocritical to sack him.”
fn2. As with Monash, the term “global” is an aspiration rather than a reality. In practice, U21Global does not even try to compete outside the Asian market, and it seems that it is increasingly focusing on Singapore, its physical location.