American University is launching an online masters degree in international relations in partnership with 2U, marking another step in the growth of the US education technology company.

The programme will mix live interactive sessions in an online classroom with coursework posted online for students to access at their convenience. This framework has been successfully used in the 2U-supported MBA@UNC degree launched by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in 2011.

AU’s School of International Service - which clams to be the largest international relations school in the US - joins a handful of institutions that have partnered with 2U (formerly 2tor), including its Washington DC neighbours Georgetown University and George Washington University. “We are very impressed by their partners…as well as how technically advanced these programmes are,” says James Goldgeier, dean of AU’s School of International Service. .

2U, which was founded in 2008, has now partnered with eight US graduate schools, each in a different academic field. It is a deliberate strategy to not duplicate partnerships, according to Chip Paucek, co-founder and chief executive. “One could argue that partnering with as many schools as possible would be more profitable…[but] we believe, over time, quality will win.”

Reporting annual growth in student numbers of approximately 50 per cent on the graduate programmes supported by their technology, Mr Paucek is confident that his company - which has raised a little under $100m in launch capital - is now “making the turn to a less deficit-based organisation.” Last month, a consortium of 10 leading US universities announced the launch in 2013 of Semester Online, a 2U-developed online network that will coordinate undergraduate learning among member institutions.

Significant investment is required to launch each graduate programme which, according to Mr Paucek, costs 2U between $7m and $10m. Revenues generated from these programmes are shared between 2U and partner universities, although details of these agreements have not been disclosed.

Tuition fees for the professionally-oriented AU masters in international relations, to be completed in two years or less, will be comparable to those of the school’s on-campus programmes - which cost approximately $58,000 - according to Prof Goldgeier. “The quality is just as high, if not even higher [than on-campus programmes]…because of the technology.” Students, up to 15 per class, will have full access to the school’s faculty, as well as internship placement and career services. There will be four student enrolments per year, with the first class starting in May 2013.

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