Open University To Go Global With Online Courses
The Open University (OU) has launched a campaign to take distance learning global - as it attempts to catch up with online course offered by US colleges.
The OU has teamed up with 10 British universities in a venture called FutureLearn.
The plan is to give free virtual lectures that are supplemented by digital learning tools to help promote UK institutions.
OU vice-chancellor Martin Bean told Sky News: "You won't be able to get a degree through FutureLearn but you will be able to get free access to some of the best higher education content on the planet.
"In a world of higher fees where people are taking on more of that responsibility for themselves I think they're going to demand better teaching ... and I'm sure it will help these universities really develop new, innovative and experimental teaching practices."
The decision to go global comes after leading US colleges, including Harvard, MIT, Texas and Georgetown, launched various learning partnerships.
One partnership involving Stanford already has two million users around the world.
Professor Bean admitted: "There's no doubt the Americans have got a little out in front of us on this one."
But he insisted the move would benefit Britain's universities.
"It strengthens brand and competitiveness, it allows them to experiment and develop new teaching strategies for their students on campus and online," he said.
"And it also creates some revenue opportunities in being able to compete for all of those transnational students that are often in developing parts of the world."
The OU has been running courses since 1971, initially using late night television programmes to supplement course notes.
Supporters see FutureLearn as an important way to put students on a path that may lead to traditional tertiary education - a lucrative sector for colleges.
But there are doubts whether any money can be made from massive open online courses (Moocs), even though one in the US has 160,000 users.
Moocs do not carry degree credits and concerns have been raised about plagiarism and the manpower needed to check the work of tens of thousands of students that may be on a single course.
Money-making concepts have included offering free courses but charging for exams, certificates and tutoring.