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11 top UK universities (finally) go all in on MOOC’s; Futurelearn to launch in 2nd half of 2013

The UK universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick have all signed up to join Futurelearn, a British MOOC provider being launched by The Open University, a long established distance education provider in the UK.

Martin Bean, the Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said in a prepared statement, “MOOCs represent an enormous development in higher education, one that has the potential to bring about long-lasting change to the HE sector. The OU has decades of experience in world-class distance learning – each year we teach around 250,000 registered students, with literally millions of others accessing our free, informal, online offerings. Futurelearn will take this proud heritage and work with some of Britain’s best-known universities to write the next chapter in the story of British higher education.”

While venture capitalists and leading universities can’t seem to stop throwing money at MOOC’s here in the U.S., the UK has been a little pokey in embracing the model, with only two notable institutions jumping on the bandwagon until now. The Universities of Edunburgh and London only recently signed on to offer courses via Coursera.

The UK government has been enthusiastic about Futurelearn. The Minister for Universities and Science responsible for higher education in England, David Willetts, said “The UK must be at the forefront of developments in education technology. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) 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.

“Futurelearn has the potential to put the UK at the heart of the technology for learning agenda by revolutionising conventional models of formal education. New online delivery tools will also create incredible opportunities for UK entrepreneurs to reach world markets by harnessing technology and innovation in the field of education.”

Leading the charge at Futurelearn will be CEO Simon Nelson, one of the key architects of BBC online who, in his 14 years at the corporation, set up iPlayer and led all digital activities in radio and television.

“There has been rapid and widespread growth in open online courses but until now UK universities have only had the option of working with US-based platforms. Futurelearn will aim to bring together the leading UK universities to create a combined and coherent offer for students in the UK and internationally. I look forward to using the OU’s proud history of innovation and academic excellence to create something the UK will be proud of and the world will want to be a part of,” said Nelson.

Futurelearn expects to start delivering courses in the second half of 2013.

Futurelearn has no website yet, but you can check out The Open University UK here.