Melbourne University Private – the
controversial commercial off-shoot of 150-year-old Melbourne University
– is to be shut down. The university’s vice-chancellor, Glen Davis,
will make an announcement later today, after sending an email to staff
alerting them to the end of the troubled commercial experiment.

told staff in the email that the private university would hand back its
licence to the state government. He said Melbourne University Private
was set up in 1997 to “do things the public university couldn’t do,”
such as delivering tailored courses to industry. But public
universities can now do this, so a separate entity is no longer needed.

Melbourne University Private was set up amid much fanfare as “a
state-of-the-art facility that would attract 8,000 fee-paying students
and generate up to $2.5 billion in economic activity.”

But the
university’s market research was appalling – its sponsors thought that
Rupert Murdoch would send hundreds of News Ltd staffers to do Masters
degrees in journalism, but it turned out there was little demand for
its courses. It quickly ran into financial difficulties in 2001 when
leaked business reports revealed it was at risk of insolvency. Not long
afterwards, the university also came under political pressure when the
Labor state government threatened to withdraw its accreditation because
it didn’t carry out research.

The closure is a major blow for
former vice-chancellor Alan Gilbert, who staked his reputation on the
private university concept. Precise financial figures will be hard to
come by, but the failed experiment has cost the university tens and
quite possibly hundreds of millions of dollars – depending in part on
how you treat the cost of the $250 million university square
development in the inner-city suburb of Carlton. The building, which
was constructed to house the Private University, has since been taken
over by the public university and now houses the law school.

Labor Senator Kim Carr, who’s run a campaign against the private uni
since its inception, said the unvierstiy has had major problems with
its balance sheet and research profile and it was about time it was
closed down.