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15 unions worldwide have now signed an international agreement on defending education and employment standards in the context of global marketisation. Together, these unions represent more than half a million tertiary education workers around the world.

The deepening global recession and the cutting back of public provision will only give greater encouragement to a burgeoning private sector, making the international agreement only more relevant and important.

We are now turning this community of over 500,000 academics into something tangible.

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Another blow to U21 Global

Universitas 21, the international consortium of universities that launched a for-profit on-line program in 2001, is reassessing its future after another institution has left.

This week, the University of Melbourne announced it would stop funding the troubled U21 Global virtual operation after yet another year of lackluster performance.

In response, Universitas 21 announced it was handing its controlling interest in U21 Global to the Manipal Group, an Indian company that specializes in financial services, manufacturing, and health care.

Manipal says it plans to shift the focus of U21 Global to “corporate education” — something that Melbourne spokeswoman Christina Buckridge described to Inside Higher Ed as “short, non-award courses, sometimes tailored to a big corporate’s particular needs.”

It’s quite a fall from grace for the ambitious venture that once boasted it would attract half a million on-line students and generate nine-figure profit margins. Dazzled by the prospect of reaping new revenue streams, many public universities were quick to jump on board, pumping untold millions into the joint venture that never made a profit.

All in all, the story of U21 Global is a sorry tale that ends with a clear warning about the dangers of joint ventures in higher education. Let’s hope the lesson has been learned.

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