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The year 2000 was a boon for media giant Thomson. Early in the new year, the corporation announced the sale of all its newspaper interests save The Globe and Mail. The Canadian corporation restructured into four main groups, including Thomson Learning, with the goal of becoming the worlds foremost global e-information and solutions company.

Thomson has bought up several large education businesses, with its eye on the profits waiting to be reaped from the multi-billion dollar academic market, which includes training, testing, distance education, language instruction and information technology.

At least three Canadian universities are interested in the virtual solutions Thomson is involved in selling. McGill University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto are among the 18 members of Universitas 21, a network of universities offering higher education over the internet and satellite television.

In November 2000, Thomson announced it would develop online materials for the venture, which will award degrees, diplomas or certificates bearing the names of all 18 member universities. Public post-secondary institutions seeking new sources of revenue will undoubtedly continue to be courted by the likes of the Thomson Corporation.

Universitas 21 hopes to attract some of the 160 million students expected to enroll in higher education by 2025, getting in on a market worth US$15 billion outside the United States. Thomson Learning will be responsible for course design, content development, testing and assessment, student database management and translation.

Thomsons key acquisitions costing at least $5.7 billion over the past 5 years in the training, testing and certification markets, cement their position as a key player in the world of outsourced corporate training.

As more businesses start pushing digital diplomas, education and training will increasingly be delivered and received in isolation. With no need for costly campuses that would permit something beyond virtual interaction, more and more institutions may be tempted to move from bricks to clicks. Yet questions about who is providing education and assuring its quality remain unanswered in this relatively unregulated new frontier.