Hong Kong's virtual school of biodiversity will boost international academic research and exchange on nature conservation. Set up by the Department of Ecology and Biodiversity of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Britain's School of Biological Science of the University of Nottingham, it will strengthen co-operative teaching and learning at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Dr Peter Davies, of the University of Nottingham, said the primary goal of the project was to enable academics to share courseware and support student exchange. 'Globalisation is a major trend in education development. The Web facilitates this by allowing the teaching community to share resources. 'The virtual school will enhance international co-operation between universities in biodiversity research and education,' Dr Davies said. The school is supported by the Biodiversity Consortium, a group of British universities, the Natural History Museum, the BBC Natural History Film Unit, and Universitas 21, an international association of research intensive universities. 'This is just the first step and, if the project is successful, other members of Universitas 21 will join. Hopefully, the school can be expanded to cover other subjects.' Dr Davies said the on- line site would supple ment for students learning. 'Students attending lectures can obtain support material from other universities through the Web. It is also a good way to ensure quality teaching. 'Exchange students can keep in touch with their lecturers in Hong Kong and obtain feedback on their progress. The course similarity means credits gained overseas are transferable.' Gray Williams, a lecturer at HKU's Department of Ecology and Biodiversity, said the virtual school would start operating in the next academic year. HKU Vice-Chancellor Professor Cheng Yiu- chung said the joint project was in line with its aim of becoming a digital university.