Executives of failed e-university under fire from MPs

The senior businessmen behind the government’s failed internet university told a cross party group of MPs today that they were...

The senior businessmen behind the government’s failed internet university told a cross party group of MPs today that they were right to receive tens of thousands of pounds in performance bonuses, despite the scheme’s collapse.

The UK e-University, designed to create the IT infrastructure to allow British universities to offer degree courses online, cost tax payers £50m when the government pulled the plug on the scheme this year.

John Beaumont, chief executive of the UkeU earned a £50,000 bonus on top of his annual salary of £180,000, and chairman Sir Antony Cleaver received a 30% bonus despite failure of the programme to attract the hundreds of thousands of students anticipated. 

But the two businessmen defended their payments despite hostile questioning from MPs on the commons education and skills select committee, who argued that the bonuses were inappropriate given the scheme’s problems.

Sir Antony Cleaver told the committee that the project was viable and would have been successful if the Higher Education Funding Council for England, had not prematurely cut-off funding after two years.

“I strongly believe that the UK eUniversity had a sound future and if allowed to continue would have delivered significant benefits,” he said.

The e-university signed a multimillion-pound deal with Sun Microsystems to develop and run an IT platform to offer online degree programmes, and had invested £5.2m when the scheme was closed.

But the HEFC had been unwilling to continue supporting the system, leaving UK universities without access to a system that could have provided them with a platform to offer e-learning in the UK and overseas, the MPs heard.

Cleaver said that the system was far more advanced than anything on offer elsewhere but he admitted that it needed further development before it was a fully working product.

The scheme had only 900 students when it was closed down this year, out of the hundreds of thousands it had ultimately expected to attract.

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