The brave new world of online universities has proved to be short-lived, according to a paper to be published next month in Britain's Higher Education Quarterly magazine by an Australian academic. Until a few years ago, promoters of online universities were still claiming electronic teaching methods would sweep away traditional campus-based institutions, arguing that across Asia, Africa and Latin America, tens of thousands of students would be able to log on and earn their diplomas. The American-based management guru Peter Drucker even declared in 2000 that within 30 years bricks-and-mortar universities would be gone. Asia, with more than half the world's people, had global giants such as China and India facing significant unmet demand. But the fervent promoters were wrong, says Monash University academic Professor Simon Marginson: the e-universities turned into spectacular failures. Professor Marginson is director of Monash's centre for research in international education. He points out that few English-speaking e-universities actually enrolled degree students from the Asia-Pacific and most closed. In his paper, Professor Marginson names more than a dozen of the high-profile electronic universities around the world that have closed or are near to collapse. He says the main reason was their promoters believed they could market their wares to the Asia-Pacific and other less-developed regions in the same format and same language to different countries. Yet the Asia-Pacific nations were culturally and linguistically diverse, with different histories, economies, natural and cultural environments - and different educational traditions and policies. To succeed, online programmes needed to be teaching-intensive and customised for the cultural and linguistic variations. Likewise, the potential of cross-border online education could be realised only if communications capacity in the Asia-Pacific nations was enhanced, Professor Marginson said. 'Long-term equal partnerships with local and system providers are also essential,' he said. In his paper, Professor Marginson argues that online education has better prospects as a solution to unmet demand, or in creating new markets, rather than trying to out-compete established universities. The mainland has the world's largest unmet demand for higher education but 'is under-developed in both quantity and quality', he says. Some forecasts suggest that between 2000 and 2015 total demand for tertiary education on the mainland will rise from eight million to 45 million students.