Demand prompts call for more online courses

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UK higher education bodies should invest in online courses to help meet surging demand from students in emerging economies, the universities minister has urged.

David Willetts described the rise in interest from countries such as India and Indonesia as “astounding”.

“Online learning is going to be a big thing, very significant, when you look at the hunger for higher education,” he told the Guardian’s Higher Education Summit on Wednesday.

The minister warned that the “classic model” of campus universities would no longer satisfy growing demand from students in Asia and elsewhere.

However, US universities’ forays into “massive open online courses” – known as “Moocs” – have created controversy among those concerned that content is being given away for free.

Only last week Coursera, a “Mooc” set up by academics at Stanford, announced partnerships with 29 new universities thus extending its reach into Europe and Asia. The start-up provides more than 200 free courses to almost 2.8m registered global users.

Meanwhile, EdX, which was founded last year by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has recently added six new universities to its offering. EdX has more than 700,000 registered users.

In the UK, the Futurelearn consortium led by the Open University and encompassing Exeter, Bristol, Leeds, St Andrews and Southampton, will open a series of online courses later this year.

When this was announced in December, Mr Willetts welcomed the idea, saying it would help the UK tap into fast-growing education markets such as Brazil, India and China.

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