Melbourne University Private

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Melbourne University Private (MUP) was a private university spinoff founded by the University of Melbourne in Australia, which operated from July 1998 to 2005. It was designed as a profit making venture, independent of as much government control as possible, in an attempt to maneuver around some of the limitations of legislation governing public universities. It was the brainchild of controversial former Vice-Chancellor Alan Gilbert. It also allowed the public university to operate a management model and mission more akin to private market-driven universities in the USA (like the University of Phoenix).

Melbourne University Private hoped to work very closely with large companies. They could, for example, pay for tailored courses or project work in their fields. The parent university hoped MUP would have enough of Melbourne's prestige to interest these companies, while keeping itself independent of suspicions of tainted research and teaching.

Its founding brought together most of the university's independent educational ventures, although some later fell by the wayside (Cain & Hewitt, 2004). MUP's main potential markets became businesspeople and students of languages and international development, both in Australia and overseas. A major part of its work was to be producing curriculum for distance education courses to be delivered through the Universitas 21 platform, and latterly in its own right.

A new area of buildings was built immediately south of the main University of Melbourne campus, and one was earmarked for MUP. Controversially, this development involved the removal of old terrace houses and a lawn bowls club. However the upset was placated somewhat by the restoration of other buildings and the creation of a new public square. Despite the strong efforts of its parent, MUP's early life was less than successful, and it was downgraded to operating from the Hawthorn Language Centre in a Melbourne suburb. The multi-million dollar building in which MUP maintained a small office was soon taken over by the public university, and named the "Alan Gilbert Building", ironically.

The distance education platform (U21) initially struggled to attract interest, and demand for its courses fell well below expectations in the early years. The situation was made worse when the federal Government changed its rules, allowing public universities to offer full fee paying courses to a broader range of people. This was also a time when more Australian universities started opening overseas campuses and otherwise delivering their courses offshore, as well as more actively bringing foreign students to Australia.

MUP attracted the scrutiny of the Labor state government in 2001, but was subsequently re-accredited in 2003 [1][2], with targets to increase research performance [3]. However, its future dimmed when Alan Gilbert accepted a position at the University of Manchester in England in 2003. His successor, Glyn Davis, proved to be much more centrist, and was not fond of the private entity. John Cain, former Premier of Victoria, was one of MUP's most vocal critics, and his book Off Course charted the shortcomings of Alan Gilbert's market-oriented ventures. MUP showed a lively willingness to self assess and adapt its marketing and operations to enhance student experience, and to ensure a close match between marketing rhetoric (initially pitched too high for many of the international students' English language skills) with considerable success [4].

On June 7, 2005, only months into his term, Davis announced that Melbourne University Private would close. Some of it, including the School of Enterprise, was merged with the University of Melbourne and continues to function, but the Hawthorn English Language Centre remained a separate entity. Other parts, including the international projects arm, were sold. The Chief Executive officer, David Lloyd, resigned at the time of the press announcement. Alan Gilbert declined to comment on the decision of his successor.

While it had some successes, the concept of a fee-charging Australian university had fallen well below expectations in most areas. It did develop some successful postgraduate teaching via distance learning, notably in the School of International Development. These activities were integrated with the formal teaching of development studies on the main campus, albeit with different fee structures and courses, but are unlikely to survive past 2006, as the main University undergoes major restructuring. The School of Enterprise continues to offer short courses and professional training, on the MUP model.

Over its eight year life, the university lost A$20 million, although this is believed to be a conservative estimate given the pre-startup investment costs, which Cain and other critics put as high as A$150 million. At the announcement of its closure, the private university had 600 fee-paying students, a growing number but less than targeted (2500 were hoped to be enrolled in 2008).

For a variety of reasons the selective views of the financial success or otherwise of MUP has been the subject of wide variations, not least due to the treatment of the start up costs. A staged approach to this led to the summary still available on the Melbourne University Website [4] showed a healthy reduction of debt, good revenues and a small return to the parent University: a very different picture to selective presentations by Cain et al. The 2003 [5] and 2004 University reports [6] offer a further information to inform these perspectives.

References[edit]

[1] http://uninews.unimelb.edu.au/view.php?articleID=417 [2] http://scaleplus.law.gov.au/ComLaw/Legislation/Bills1.nsf/0/0B110A291E10BB9ECA256FC800193524/$file/05033B.pdf [3] http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/domino/Web_Notes/newmedia.nsf/b0222c68d27626e2ca256c8c001a3d2d/c32e63b0ddce91fcca256d3b007eaf25!OpenDocument [4] http://www.englishaustralia.com.au/ea_conference03/proceedings/pdf/015F_Ellerington_Bayliss.pdf [5] http://www.unimelb.edu.au/publications/docs/annual_report2003.pdf [6] http://www.unimelb.edu.au/publications/docs/annual_report2004.pdf