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UK universities embrace the online future of higher education

Fri, 14 Dec 2012

The University of East Anglia is taking part in a major new programme to deliver university-level courses, free of charge, online.

Students from the UK and around the world will have free access to some of the country's top universities thanks to Futurelearn Ltd, a new company being launched by The Open University (OU) which will offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

As well as UEA, the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, King's College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick have signed up to Futurelearn.

There has been a marked surge, led by the United States, in the development of MOOCs, which are designed to provide mass access to an array of both short and more formal university-level courses, nationally and internationally.

Vice-Chancellor of UEA Professor Edward Acton described the venture as an exciting opportunity in the development of accessible education. He said: "We are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Open University on this venture and to be part of a much wider movement to make higher education truly accessible."

Futurelearn will be independent but majority-owned by the OU and will draw on its expertise in delivering distance learning and pioneering open education resources, as well as increasing accessibility to higher education for students across the UK and in the rest of the world.

The initiative has been welcomed by the Minister for Universities and Science responsible for higher education in England, David Willetts, who said: "The UK must be at the forefront of developments in education technology. 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.

"Futurelearn has the potential to put the UK at the heart of the technology for learning agenda by revolutionising conventional models of formal education. New online delivery tools will also create incredible opportunities for UK entrepreneurs to reach world markets by harnessing technology and innovation in the field of education."

The OU has recruited one of the key architects of the development of BBC Online, Simon Nelson, to head up the company as Launch CEO. Nelson spent 14 years at the Corporation where he helped set up iPlayer and its forerunner Radio Player and led all digital activities, initially for its radio division and then across all television content.

He 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. I look forward to using the OU's proud history of innovation and academic excellence to create something the UK will be proud of and the world will want to be a part of."

The project is in its early stages of development and further information on the types of courses to be delivered will be announced in 2013.