Futurelearn aims to increase accessibility to higher education

UK universities launch online courses

Leading universities are backing a new venture offering students free access to courses.

Futurelearn, launched by the Open University, will bring together a range of free online courses, with the aim of increasing accessibility to higher education.

A number of universities have signed up to the initiative, including those at Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick.

Universities minister David Willetts welcomed the announcement, adding: "The UK must be at the forefront of developments in education technology.

"Massive open online courses (MOOCs) 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."

Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University, said online courses had the potential to bring about "long-lasting change" to higher education.

Futurelearn will announce future details of its structure and courses early in the New Year.

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