Kolowich, S. (2009) Another one bites the dust Inside Higher Education, December 9

An article about the demise of U21 Global, an online Graduate School. U21 Global is a project of Universitas 21, an international network of leading research-intensive universities in 11 countries.

I was Director of Distance Education at the University of British Columbia, one of the members, when the consortium was formed in 1997 and deeply opposed UBC becoming a member. However, the decision was made by the Vice-President, International, at UBC at the time.

I have no problem with institutions offering online or distance programs overseas, so long as students get the same quality of education and the same qualifications that the students at home would get. But this is not the case with Universitas 21.

Thomson Learning, a branch of the large publishing organization, was responsible for course development and delivery. Adjunct faculty with no affiliation to the member universities are hired to develop and teach programs, and the accrediting agency, Pedagogica 21, is  a shell organization created by Universitas 21 to accredit its own degrees.

Universitas 21 is a blatant attempt at marketing the brand name of the member institutions without providing the teaching or the quality assurance that students would get within the individual member institutions. So good riddance to U21 Global, I say, and I hope that the demise of Universitas 21 will soon follow.


  1. OK, I can understand that you don’t like the model on which U21Global was formed. I may not agree with you on that one. But why would anyone be against international cooperation between universities? What’s your problem – wasn’t it your idea? Universitas 21 encourages co-operation and collaboration between universities. It is the oldest established such network – and there are plenty now following in that wake. It does more than just U21Global which you dislike so much – so why are you so negative about it?

    • Why I dislike it is because it is patently dishonest. It is selling the brand of the collective universities without the service.

      Under the original agreement (and it may have changed since) the courses were designed by Thomson Education, without any direct input from the faculty of member universities (they may have occasionally hired faculty from member universities, but there was no requirement in the agreement to do so, and their work was approved or rejected by Thomson, not their own university.) Thomson were happy to do this because they anticipated that they could make their books required reading for the courses. Courses were ‘approved’ for marketing not by the VP Academics of the institutions, but by a special U21 committee set up consisting mainly of the VPs International, whose main mandate is to increase revenues. In other words the courses did not go through the peer review process that such courses would go through if they were offered to their own students.

      Similarly, Pedagogica 21, the quality assurance part, is again a sub-division of Universitas 21. Program approval then is pretty automatic once the ‘marketing’ committee has approved the courses. As Ryan and Steadman (2002) said in their report on The Business of Borderless Education, and I quote:

      ‘…the issues raised by the U21 global venture are potentially of serious concern to publicly-supported higher education systems. It is unclear how U21pedagogica, the accrediting body of the U21 universities, can call on sufficiently wide expertise to validate proposed programs without the deep expertise that a comprehensive university uses in its usual accrediting procedures, through the various academic bodies of the university.’

      As far as I know, none of the U21 courses or programs has been through the UBC peer review process for program approval. Instead, a catch-all motion was forced through the Senate in 1998 enabling all programs from Universitas 21 to carry the UBC logo. It may be different at Birmingham University, but unless every program has been peer reviewed by the relevant academic faculty in your university, it is my view that the university seal should not be used.

      Let me be clear. I am not against international consortia or partnerships or against for-profit courses being offered internationally. Indeed I was the instigator behind a for-profit Masters of Educational Technology between UBC and Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, and I was active in promoting open access to university courses in my province through the Open University of BC consortium of universities and the Open Learning Agency.

      However, I am against international programs that lack academic integrity and don’t offer to foreign students what they offer to their own, and which operate purely for profit reasons.

      reference: Ryan, Y. and Steadman, L. (2002) The Business of Borderless Education: 2001 update Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  2. Oh dear. You don’t understand the difference between Universitas 21 (which is a network of universities) and U21 Global Pte Ltd, which is a collaborative venture in on-line provision in which some (but not all) U21 members participate. Perhaps you’d like to look at http://www.universitas21.com to see what it is the network does – that’s what you are calling for an end to without realising you are confusing two different things. You don’t like this version of on-line provision: fine – you don’t like the (former) use of the UBC name: fine. You have a right to those opinions and others the right to theirs. But when you say you want the demise of something, it is good common sense to check what that is.

  3. Oh dear. Universitas 21 ISN’T U21 Global Pte Ltd. The former, which you decry in your post, is a network of universities – activities at http://www.universitas21.com. The latter is a joint venture in which some universities co-operate based in Singapore – see http://www.u21global.edu.sg.

    If you don’t like the Global model, fine. If you don’t like UBC’s involvement in that, fine. But don’t confuse two separate things – you say you aren’t against international consortia and yet rail against one. Odd. It would be good to see that you see the difference.

    • Well, it depends on how you define ‘separate’. When U21 Global was formed, Universitas 21 put in 50% of the investment, set up the arrangements for course production and delivery, and set up U21pedagogica. Some universities may have withdrawn, but U21Global is/was still a creature of Universitas 21.

      The acid test for me is this: will the University of Birmingham (which I still see is a member of U21Global, according to the U21 Global web site) allow students to transfer in U21Global course credits into a University of Birmingham degree program? When I asked the question at UBC, the answer was no – yet the university seal was on the U21 Global transcripts. It’s surely wrong when a university won’t recognise qualifications that carry its own seal.

      I have no problem with the rest of Universitas21’s activities but it can’t just walk away from its responsibility for U21 Global – it is/was its baby.

  4. Tony ,

    I perfectly agree with you. U21 lacks the rigor of the program + quality of online material is just not acceptable to international standards. Grading and delivery of courses is one more shady area.

    I attended U21 program and even completed its MBA track. I was extreme sincere in the program and I realized soon that it is not worth . I simply continued further – as I had already paid the huge sum ( It is huge by any standards ,compared with the quality of program ).

    When I joined the program ,I was aware that it do not have reputation for placement or career progression ,But I thought it will at least provide me the good knowledge base . But in vain.

    Now I am attending one more program at a leading top tier Indian business school , they do not recognize U21 credentials , not ready to transfer the credit. I have just completed only two subjects with them and one subject work itself is equivalent to U21’s whole program !!.

    So from student perspective I agree with you. Somehow I think now that education in the hand of people with simply profit motivator is extremely dangerous.

  5. Dear Tony Bates
    I think you speak carelessly.
    Please keep the future trends.
    Online education will dominate it even if now having some trouble.
    You may be a person like the Bell telephone’ accident in West Union.

    Best Regards,

  6. ” ….. one subject work itself is equivalent to U21’s whole program !!”

    That’s certainly an interesting comment. U21global’s MBA has 18 modules – 17 subjects (modules) + 1 captsone management project. Each module has several discussion board assignments, case studies (including some HBS case studies) and an exam. It may not be of Ivy League quality but I won’t consider it a Dick-Tom-and-Harry institution either.

    Thus, I do find your equation most interesting:

    1 subject (from whatever Indian institute)= 18 modules of U21global.

    Food for thought indeed…….

  7. Hello Tony and others –

    I am in the process of registering myself in the “Joint Post Graduate Program in IT Management” from U21 Global and IGNOU’ which says open successful completion the candidate will get two certificates as follows:-
    a) Executive Master of Business Administrations (MBA) in Information Technology Management from IGNOU and
    b) Executive Certificate in Global Information Technology Management from U21Global

    Can I please get some expert opinion about the course, especially on the content of the course material and future prospects.

    Email – rudrapm@gmail.com

  8. They also pulled the fellowship program for UBC staff to participate in Universitas 21 program. This whole thing seems hollow. Let’s put some meaningful resources into international learning and collaboration.

    Thank you.

  9. U21Global currently evolved to GlobalNxt University, accredited as a private university in Malaysia. In addition, the university holds EFMD CEL and Malaysia Quality Authority (MQA) accreditations. They still offer the same programmes as usual, and any existing U21Global MBA graduates of my batch can opt to graduate with University of Melbourne MBA degree. Hence, I see no reasons to doubt about the quality, anyway. In Singapore at that time, U21Global was registered with CPE, and the ability of using 18 universities crests on the certificate shows that these universities approved it, no matter what.

    I graduated from NUS (also under universitas 21 network) with a Master degree, as well as U21Global-IGNOU joint Executive MBA programmes, and hold an A*STAR SIMTech WSQ Graduate Diploma, owning a few businesses currently. Being recognised by IGNOU in a joint programme is no walk in the park as they “operates as an accreditor for open university and distance education systems in India through the Distance Education Council (DEC).” (See Wikipedia on IGNOU). At that time I joined their challenging joint programme due to India excel in IT areas and the rise of Chindia concepts. My NUS degree and WSQ Hanban Business Chinese Test certificate helps me somehow fulfil the China portion of Chindia, and an exchange at ESSEC and a full membership at Sigma Xi fulfils the “east meets the west”.

    It is really sad to see what once an online graduate school project developed from the globally presitgious universitas 21 has such internal disagreements and conflicts in their cooperation and unity till their university project has to shift to Malaysia as a registered private university, with major share acquired by Manipal or Manipal University group from India.

    Nevertheless, they are currently fully accredited and legitimate, offering the old programmes as well as new doctorate programmes.


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