Top UK universities partner with Open University to launch free online courses

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Recently, online education technology has evolved rapidly that one would have hardly anticipated the huge leap within a space of one year. Thanks to education-focused start-ups who have made it possible to share lectures with students all over the world at little to zero costs and in some cases have made it easier for teachers to monitor and track students’ progress. Within the end of 2011 and 2012, great online learning platforms like edX, Coursera, Udacity,  Google Course Builder (Open source elearning course builder), have emerged from US companies and institutions.

Now Elite UK universities are teaming up with Open University to offer free online courses through FutureLearn, to rival with US based online learning start-ups. This will only mean one thing for the learners around the world; more options to choose from. Sometimes, more options would result to more problem of information overload but that is a topic for another day.

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Eleven top UK universities are joining the Open University to launch free online courses, in a bid to catch up with the elite US institutions that have led the way online.

The UK Universities includes King’s College London, with the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick. These universities have partnered with FutureLearn, a company set up by the Open University that will offer free, non-credit bearing courses to internet-users around the world.

The courses are modelled on the US phenomenon ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ (MOOCs), which have attracted millions of users across the globe, and are especially popular in emerging economies – a key market place for UK universities.

In the news from the, Prof Martin Bean, Vice-chancellor of the Open University said “It’s absolutely unacceptable that the number one or two brand for higher education in the world should be lagging in the areas of innovation in terms of HE. We need to inject that front-foot, innovative flavour if we’re to compete with the US.”

Universities minister David Willetts said the partnership – which has received cross-party support and involves universities from Scotland, Wales and England – will put the UK at the heart of online education.

“Massive open online courses 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.”

The UK higher education industry, which is worth £14 billion, stands in the top five export earners for Britain.

Partner institutions will be responsible for their own content while the OU, which has been providing distance learning courses since 1971, will assist with course delivery and infrastructure.

While the courses are not meant to rival traditional degrees, Prof Bean hopes the partnership will help democratise education.

About Futurelearn

Futurelearn will bring together a range of free, open, online courses from leading UK universities, in the same place and under the same brand.

The Company will be able to draw on The Open University’s unparalleled expertise in delivering distance learning and in pioneering open education resources. These will enable Futurelearn to present a single, coherent entry point for students to the best of the UK’s online education content.

Futurelearn will increase the accessibility of higher education, opening up a wide range of new online courses and learning materials to students across the UK and the rest of the world.


  • Ikenna Odinaka C. is a Writer, Career Development Professional, Entrepreneur, Educator and Investor. He is the founder of, and He has also co-founded other businesses in Education, technology and media industry. He is passionate about the future of work, entrepreneurship and helping young people explore opportunities to develop their financial capability. You can read his best content on and watch his insightful videos on YouTube

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