UK universities to launch free degree-style online courses
Twelve top British universities including Bristol, St Andrews, Kings College London and the Open University will offer free online degree-level courses to students around the world, it was announced today.
The new company, called Futurelearn, is being launched by the Open University. It will operate in direct rivalry with established American course platforms such as Coursera and Harvard-based edX, which offer massive open online courses (Moocs) to students around the world for free.
Moocs represent an enormous development in higher education, one that has the potential to bring about long-lasting change to the HE [higher education] sector,” said Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of the Open University.
“The OU has decades of experience in world-class distance learning. Futurelearn will take this proud heritage and work with some of Britain s best-known universities to write the next chapter in the story of British higher education.
The Mooc model has enjoyed huge popularity in recent years. Coursera, the US-based Mooc pioneer which originated at Stanford University, launched in April this year, and by September already had 1.3 million students.
Students generally receive a certificate for completing the courses, but do not receive academic credit toward any conventional degree qualification. Courses typically involve students working through set assignments online, including video lectures delivered by academics at the institutions offering the courses, before evaluating one another’s work.
Specific details of the courses on offer through Futurelearn will be announced “early in the New Year”.
Universities Minister David Willetts said he welcomed the move by British universities to create their own rival platform: “The UK must be at the forefront of developments in education technology.”
He added: “Massive open online courses present an opportunity for us to widen access to, and meet the global demand for, higher education. This is growing rapidly in emerging economies like Brazil, India and China.”
In fact, some British institutions are already offering Moocs through the established American platforms. Edinburgh University began offering courses through Coursera in July including subjects such as “Introduction to Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life” while University of London became the first English university to join in September with five short courses, also through Coursera.
The 11 other universities signed up to the Open University scheme are Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick.
Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol said: “This is an important step forward in opening up the channels by which individuals can access some of the highest quality educational opportunities. In a world where people increasingly access content in a multiplicity of ways, it is only right that Higher Education can be accessed by alternative and complementary methods.”
Professor Louise Richardson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of St Andrews, added: New technologies necessarily mean that universities will be very different in 20 years time, and Futurelearn is aiming to set an early benchmark for the UK in distance learning by marrying high quality academic content with state of the art expertise in course delivery.
Futurelearn will be launched under the direction of BBC Online veteran Simon Nelson, who helped set up the Corporation’s highly successful iPlayer.
Find out more about MOOCs:
University of London signs up to US-based ‘massive open online course’ pioneer Coursera
Distance learning: The online learning revolution
Top university offers free degree-style course on alien life