BIG BOOM IN CORPORATE UNIVERSITIES, STUDY SHOWS The number of corporate universities is expected to grow to 2,000 by the year 2000, sparked by an increasing need among U.S. corporations to formalize their training.

The 1998 Survey of Corporate University Future Directions, conducted by New York City-based consulting firm Corporate University Xchange, found that more than 1,600 of these educational organizations established and run by corporations exist today, up from only 400 a decade ago.

According to respondents, the top reason for launching a corporate university is to fulfill a need for training. Introducing a new corporate culture and linking education to business goals were other top motivating factors.

Forty percent of the surveyed corporate universities plan to grant degrees in partnership with accredited institutions of higher education. These degrees--from the associate level in engineering, health care, and retail management, to the graduate level in business administration, engineering, and finance--will span the educational spectrum. Motorola, for example, will offer a technical MBA in conjunction with a partnership between Motorola University and Arizona State University, while Bell Atlantic's corporate university, "The Next Step," will offer associate-level telecommunications degrees through 23 New England colleges.

More than 50 percent of corporate university training will be technology-based by the year 2000, according to the survey (23 percent of training is technology-based today). "If a company wants to work on a global scale, it has to become independent of time and geography," says Jeanne C. Meister, president of Corporate University Xchange. "Technology, specifically distance learning, allows companies to do this."

Meister says Germany's Daimler-Benz, which currently administers an online executive training program through an alliance with University of Southern California in Los Angeles, is a perfect example of how technology can enable a corporation to cultivate a learning partner beyond its borders. "Daimler-Benz accomplishes its educational goals via the Internet, despite the nine-hour time difference between Germany and California."

DO CONFERENCE CENTERS DO MEETINGS BETTER? USERS SAY YES A recent study conducted by Cornell University researchers Timothy R. Hinkin and J. Bruce Tracey concluded that conference centers provide a more satisfactory meeting experience than hotels. The differentiating factor: service.

"Meeting executives maintained that service is just as, if not more, important than the actual physical facility," says Hinkin. "At hotels, meetings are typically handled by salespeople who don't necessarily understand the needs of a meeting executive. And conference centers definitely have the upper hand--they have dedicated more attention to providing employees, such as conference coordinators, who are specialized in dealing with those needs."

The study was conducted in three phases: Phase one asked two separate focus groups of meeting executives and training directors to identify factors critical to the effectiveness of training activities, while phases two and three surveyed trainees, trainers, and meeting executives.

In 19 out of 20 categories established as "critically important" to meeting executives during phase one, survey respondents rated conference centers above hotels. Conference centers scored significantly higher on the following eight points:

* Audiovisual equipment and other materials are available and functional.

* The temperature/climate of meeting rooms is comfortable and controllable.

* Meeting rooms are the appropriate size for the group.

* Staff is willing to go the extra step to make the meeting successful.

* Immediate and attentive assistance is provided throughout a meeting.

* Tables and chairs in the meeting room are comfortable and well-constructed.

* Meeting rooms have adequate and variable lighting.

* One primary contact person is responsible for coordinating all elements of a meeting.

The International Association of Conference Centers Meeting Facilities Study was commissioned by IACC in an attempt to differentiate conference centers from other facilities within the hospitality industry. The results were released earlier this year.

SURVEY FINDS CORPORATE MEETINGS HOLDING STEADY Meeting activity in U.S. corporations will remain steady next year, according to the latest Meetings Outlook Survey conducted by Meeting Professionals International and the American Society of Association Executives. Twenty-two percent of corporate meeting executives responding to the survey said they expect to hold more meetings in 1999 than they did this year. However, the same number reported that they expect to hold fewer meetings next year than they held this year. (The study polled 300 meeting executives, 150 of whom identified themselves as corporate.)

Other findings:

* Half of the corporate meeting executive respondents said they hold meetings outside of the U.S. The three countries mentioned most often as international meeting sites were England, Canada, and Mexico.

* From a list of possible responses--technology, sponsorships, pricing structures, duration of meetings, and educational topics/format--about two thirds of the corporate respondents said technology would bring the most significant changes to the meeting industry over the next two years. Half the corporate respondents judged "sponsorships" to be the least significant change agent.

* Half the corporate executives said that measuring a meeting's return on investment was "very important."

TEAM TO BUILD ONLINE MODELS FOR INTERACTIVE TRAINING Two meeting industry players have joined forces to enhance online training. Webster, N.Y.-based Fusion Productions, which specializes in meeting communications skills, teamed up with Elliott Masie, president of the Masie Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a think-tank that explores the intersection of technology and learning. Masie--who also works as a third-party meeting executive for high-tech events at Fortune 500 companies--will share his research on user acceptance of online learning with Fusion in order to build teaching models for the meeting industry.

According to co-founder of Fusion Productions Don Dea, the new partnership hopes to use technology to enrich meetings. "We can do two very important things with online education," says Dea. "Meeting participation can be increased by allowing those who can't be physically present to attend online. And for those who can attend, participation can be further enriched by using, for example, options like hypertext links to the Internet that complement a speaker's presentation."

The partners have been developing a prototype that will be tested this fall by 20 CEOs from the American Association of Medical Society Executives. "They will be interacting with instructors through chat forums. Then, once the three- to four-week course is completed, we will have a model to work from," says Dea.

FYI * The International Association of Congress Centres (AIPC) recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in Orvieto, Italy. The three-day program included presentations on trends in the meeting industry and on facility management. The next AIPC Congress is slated for June 26-30, 1999, in Jakarta, Indonesia. For more information, contact Geoffrey Smith at 44-181-940-3431 or at geoffreysmith1@compu serve.com.

* The Historic Conference Centres of Europe (HCCE) alliance recently announced its 13th member, the Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones de Cordoba in Cordoba, Spain. The latest addition to HCCE, a former monastery dating from the 16th century, offers nine conference rooms, with capacities ranging from 40 to 600 people. HCCEs are available in 11 European countries. Visit www.historic-centres.com for more information.

* For its 10th anniversary contest, the Paradise, Texas-based Garrett Creek Ranch Conference Center recently awarded complimentary meetings to 16 nonprofit organizations. Thirteen winners received a free board meeting for up to 20 people, including meals, two breaks, overnight guest rooms, one meeting room, audiovisual equipment, and a meeting planner. The remaining three winners were awarded complimentary day meetings.

* Two managers of the former Chicago-based conference center KPMG Peat Marwick LLP Center for Leadership Development recently began their own management and consulting firm, Conference Center Concepts LLC. Louise Silberman and John Potterton will focus on securing management contracts for non-residential properties in the Windy City area. The new company's founders began their business by buying out the KPMG Center and renaming it Summit Executive Center.

CORRECTIONS * The map of Japan in the AACVB supplement in March CMI inadvertently omitted Okinawa. Located about 500 miles southwest of Japan's Kyushu island, this popular waterfront destination and meeting venue is known not only for its state-of-the-art convention center, but also for its subtropical climate and numerous resort hotels.

* The MIT Museum in Cambridge, Mass., mentioned in an article on unusual meeting venues in August CMI, no longer does group functions.