Open University Bids For Global Lead In Online Education


The OU gathers online higher education courses from top UK universities for a global education push

The Open University has launched a new company, dubbed Futurelearn Ltd, which has gathered together a number of free online courses from various leading British universities.

The move is part of the Open University’s attempt to reach out to students around the world, who are seeking free higher education courses on the Internet.

Open university, free education

The Futurelearn vehicle is said to be independent of the Open University, but is majority-owned by the Milton Keynes based university.

It has so far signed up the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick to its cause.

And its cause is to present a one-stop-shop of free online courses from British universities that are designed to be clear, simple to use and accessible. It draws on the OU’s expertise in delivering distance learning for both British students and those around the world.

University, Education © Sam72 Shutterstock 2012“MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) represent an enormous development in higher education, one that has the potential to bring about long-lasting change to the HE sector,” said Martin Bean, the vice-chancellor of The Open University.

“The OU has decades of experience in world-class distance learning – each year we teach around 250,000 registered students, with literally millions of others accessing our free, informal, online offerings.

“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.”

And the creation of Futurelearn has also been welcomed by the government, which pointed to the growing demand for higher education around the world.

“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,” said the minister for universities and science, David Willetts.

“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.”

To help its drive to reach a global audience, the OU recruited one of the key architects of the development of BBC Online, Simon Nelson, who will head up Futurelearn as CEO. Nelson has impressive track record here, as he helped set up BBC iPlayer, and was heavily involved in all the BBC’s digital activities for the past fourteen years.

Skills gap

“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,” said Nelson. “Futurelearn will aim to bring together the leading UK universities to create a combined and coherent offer for students in the UK and internationally.”

Futurelearn is to formally announce its range of courses, as well as its structure, early in the New Year.

The OU has been active in trying to close the UK skills gap in the IT industry after it launched new IT undergraduate degrees back in 2011.

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