To go with AFP story by Dan Martin: LIFESTYLE-CHINA-VALENTINE-INTERNET Beijing office worker Jiang Hui surfs the internet looking for love at a cafe in Beijing on February 5, 2010. By joing an online dating site, Jiang, who hasn't dated a girl since graduating from college four years ago, hopes this Valentine's Day - which falls on the same day as the first day of the Chinese new year this year- will be different as he began his cybersearch for a sweetheart three months ago, utilising an exploding industry as millions of young Chinese like him take advantage of technology and a newfound freedom to control their own love lives. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

A business school course that can be completed on an iPad has been created through a partnership between some of the UK’s leading universities and the government’s Tech City agency.

The Digital Business Academy, a joint venture by Cambridge university’s Judge Business School, UCL, Tech City and start-up course designer Founder Centric, aims to persuade those that have shunned formal education in favour of entrepreneurship to obtain some formal business training. The academy says this could give their start-ups a better chance of becoming the next Facebook or Google.

The involvement of UCL and Judge, two of the world’s top academic institutions, reflects the desire in business education circles to engage with a new generation of company founders for whom qualifications such as a masters in management or an MBA are seen as an expensive drain on their time.

Stephen Caddick, UCL’s vice-provost for enterprise and London, said: “We are committed to helping as many people as possible to acquire skills in business, digital technologies and entrepreneurship so that they can start and grow the companies that will create jobs and drive the UK economy.”

The teaching material, which ranges from how to develop an idea to marketing and financing a venture, is offered for free to registered users and each module is expected to take three to six weeks to finish.

Completion of the entire course does not result in a formal qualification, but successful students are offered rewards, such as free office space and mentoring support, provided by more than 30 industry partners, including the BBC, Twitter, O2, Unruly and Microsoft Ventures.

The method of teaching the course uses, with lectures delivered via video and coursework completed online, is known in education circles as a massive open online course, or Mooc.

Creation of such courses is a growth industry among business schools and universities, seeing the potential to reach a much greater audience than those who come to study on a campus.

Moocs are also seen as a more relevant style of teaching in a world where ambitious executives increasingly aspire to work in start-ups instead of climbing the career ladder in a multinational corporation. Such people tend to see an MBA, the bedrock of business school teaching, as irrelevant or too time consuming for their needs.

Tech City, an agency within the Department for Business charged with nurturing the UK’s start-up clusters, wants to improve the commercial nous of the most promising digital entrepreneurs so that their ventures achieve the rapid growth that drives job creation and productivity gains.

According to Joanna Shields, Tech City’s chair and the prime minister’s digital adviser, it is not enough to encourage start-ups if their founders lack the leadership skills to expand the business.

The course is not just aimed at founders but those looking to work in digital start-ups, Ms Shields added, claiming that the UK will need 745,000 additional workers with digital skills to meet the rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017.

More than 1,000 people have already signed up to the Digital Business Academy’s teaching platform during the six-week pre-registration “beta” phase, according to Ms Shields.

“Whether you are a mother returning to the workplace or a new graduate full of ideas, securing top-notch digital and technical skills is essential,” she said.

“I love this democratisation of access to education. To me it is what the internet is all about.”

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