As online education takes off in the United States, universities across the pond are taking notice. Eleven of the United Kingdom’s top universities have signed on to join the Open University, adding their names to the growing list of prestigious American universities who offer free courses online.
The universities — including King’s College London and the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St. Andrews and Warwick — are looking to emulate the popular MOOC models employed in the U.S., most notably through platforms like Coursera and edX.
The universities have partnered with FutureLearn, a company set
up by the Open University that will offer free courses (not for credit) to students with internet access. Like American MOOCs, the partnership will not only appeal to a domestic audience, but also millions of interested students around the world.
The decision will bring the British education system in closer competition with the U.S., which has already seen immense international success with its open online courses.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable that the number one or two brand for higher education in the world should be lagging in the areas of innovation in terms of (higher education),” Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of the Open University, told the Guardian. “We need to inject that front-foot, innovative flavor if we’re to compete with the U.S.”
FutureLearn’s American counterparts have grown dramatically in the last year, with Coursera surpassing 1.7 million users and edX enrolling 370,000 students for this fall. While some educators have expressed fear of online education’s effect on the traditional classroom, administrators have said they do not see online courses unseating brick-and-mortar education in the U.K. But they do hope it will democratize education, increasing access for students in developing countries and London alike.