Open University launches British platform to rival US free online degree-style course providers
Twelve of the UK’s top universities yesterday launched a new programme, known as Futurelearn, which will offer free degree-style online courses.
The UK-based platform for massive open online courses (MOOCs) will be a true competitor for American established providers such as Coursera and Harvard-based edX.
The project, which will begin offering courses in 2013, is aimed at offering public access to higher education courses through computers, tablets and smartphones. It will represent the UK’s response to the quick rise of online universities.
Some British institutions have been already offering MOOCs through the established American platforms. Edinburgh University began offering courses through Coursera in July, while the University of London was the first English university to join last September with five short courses.
Students would generally receive a certificate for completing the courses. However, they would not receive academic credits for a traditional degree qualification.
David Willetts, the UK Minister for Universities and Science, who is responsible for higher education, said: “Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) present an opportunity for us to widen access to, and meet the global demand for, higher education.”
The new platform will operate as an independent company, with the majority owned by The Open University. Simon Nelson, a BBC’s expert for online offerings, who has been recruited to head the new company, said: “There has been rapid and widespread growth in open online courses but until now UK universities have only had the option of working with US-based platforms. Futurelearn will aim to bring together the leading UK universities to create a combined and coherent offer for students in the UK and internationally.”
The other 11 universities that are signed up to the Open University Futurelearn project are Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick.
Professor Louise Richardson, principal and vice-chancellor of St Andrews, said: “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.”