The University of Liverpool is to become Europe's largest provider of online degree courses following the acquisition of its e-learning partner by global higher education specialist Sylvan Learning Systems.
As part of its buy-out of Amsterdam-based KIT eLearning earlier this month, Sylvan signed a 10-year agreement with Liverpool to significantly increase the university's online course offerings and expand student access.
Paul Leng, Professor of e-learning at the University of Liverpool, said: "Under this agreement we're aiming at a target of 10,000 online students, which we expect to be able to achieve well within the 10-year time frame."
Liverpool and KIT currently offer two fully online degrees: an MBA and an MSc in IT. The university has around 1,800 students from more than 80 countries enrolled on these programmes.
And the university expects to introduce new IT and business courses within six months. "The next area we'll be looking at developing is healthcare, where we hope to have an offering in place within two years. Beyond that we haven't prioritised," said Leng.
The e-learning partnership between Liverpool and KIT has been running for four years. KIT invested $10m (£5.5m) in software and product development for Liverpool in return for a share of the profits.
"The university has complete academic control over matters such as admissions, assessments and course content, while KIT handles all the management and administration," said Leng.
The success of the collaboration is in sharp contrast to the government's £62m UK eUniversities (UKeU) scheme, which was also set up four years ago to promote online learning.
As vnunet.com's sister title Computing reported last month, only 900 students have signed up for the scheme and it has now been put under review.
US-based Sylvan is a major provider of both campus-based and online higher education. Its 100 per cent acquisition of KIT is a bid to gain a foothold in the online learning market outside the US.
Paula Singer, president of Sylvan Online Higher Education, said in a statement: "The addition of British degrees to our US offerings will allow us to meet the needs and preferences of students throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia."
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