Education is vitally important and the announcement that several UK universities are soon to be offering free, open, MOOC courses is a development that can only be good. Futurelearn is the brand name under which the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick have all joined. Futurelearn will be independent, but majority owned by the Open University, which has great expertise in providing online courses.
Futurelearn will increase the accessibility of higher education for students not just in the UK but across the globe. It has been warmly welcomed by the UK government. The minister said how important it is for the UK’s position in the world. It is rather in the benefits that will accrue to individuals round the world where Futurelearn finds its real potential. Burgeoning populations without access to local education can log on and join in, educating themselves for free. Futurelearn is a fantastic opportunity for less-developed countries and the Open University is to be congratulated for taking this step.
The courses that will be available will be announced in the New Year. Of course similar systems are already available, from edX and Coursera. Both are leading the way in providing massive online open courses. If Futurelearn has a similar level of courses available then it will be a great addition to these attempts to bring education to those without geographical or monetary access. The system cannot be judged until the announcement of the courses that will be available and we hope that it will be an exciting selection.
The success of FutureLearn should not be judged in strictly national terms. It is great to see a learning venture start which has so much potential to change the world. Without doubt it should be encouraged and whether or not the returns to the UK are as hoped by ministers it should be seen as a success as long as it helps the less able from every and anywhere to pursue education.