Prime Minister welcomes Futurelearn expansion as British Library and five universities join

18 Feb 2013

On a trade visit to India the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has welcomed news that more top partners are joining Futurelearn, the UK’s first provider of free, open online courses from multiple top-ranking institutions.

Futurelearn, which is owned by The Open University (OU), has signed an agreement with the British Library (BL) to develop online courses using BL resources. In addition, the universities of Bath, Leicester, Nottingham, Queen’s Belfast and Reading have now joined the existing partners bringing the total number to 18. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all now have universities in Futurelearn.

India visit

The announcement was made as six of the Futurelearn partners take part in a major business and skills mission to India with the Prime Minister. Welcoming the news, David Cameron said:

“Britain boasts some of the best universities in the world. This innovative new offer led by The Open University will mean that Indian students can access some of the best teaching and learning online from their home in Mumbai or Delhi. I’m delighted that Futurelearn is expanding to include more British universities and the British Library. I hope it will encourage many more Indian students to take the next step and study with a UK university.”

Welcoming the new partners to Futurelearn, Open University Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean said:

“We’re in the middle of an exciting time for higher education in which anything is possible. I am delighted that these iconic institutions – the British Library and five top universities – have joined us on our journey to make Futurelearn the world’s best source of free, open, online courses. I’m convinced that Futurelearn will quickly become a great, innovative British export. We’re building on the country’s 800-year history of higher education to deliver a best in class teaching and learning experience that will benefit students all over the world”.

Simon Nelson, CEO of Futurelearn, said:

“I am thrilled that more of the UK’s top institutions have joined Futurelearn, which will bring the best of UK teaching to students worldwide. Until now, this market has been dominated by companies based in the US, but with 18 UK partners, we are determined to provide the smartest and most engaging online learning experiences and revolutionise conventional models of education.”

Delegation

Martin Bean has been joined on the delegation to India by Vice-Chancellors from the universities of Cardiff, Exeter, Southampton and Warwick and the Chief Executive of the British Library.

Futurelearn was launched on 14 December 2012. It is an online platform that will make courses from the UK’s best universities and institutions available online for free. It will establish the UK as a global leader in online higher education (HE), offering world-class UK university courses to students throughout the world.

In addition, it will strengthen the UK HE Sector by:

  • Maintaining the world-leading brand of UK HE, which currently has 18 of the top 100 universities
  • Building an international growth opportunity within the UK HE sector, where direct exports in 2008/09 were £7.9bn
  • Building innovation in UK HE by developing world-leading online teaching and learning practices.

British Library Chief Executive, Roly Keating said:

“FutureLearn is an exciting development in higher education, with the potential to enable mass access to valuable resources and teaching anywhere in the world, for free. As the home of a growing set of unique and valuable digital resources, the British Library is looking forward to partnering with The Open University and widening access to our collections for even more researchers online worldwide as the initiative develops.”

University partners

Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath, said:

“Our involvement with Futurelearn is driven by a desire to increase the range of ways by which those who wish to study with us can experience the outstanding quality of the learning opportunities we offer. We look forward to launching our first programmes shortly”.

Professor Sir Robert Burgess, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said:

“As a leading provider of global higher education courses via distance learning for many years, Leicester is well placed to enhance the world class offer of Futurelearn. Leicester has a wealth of experience in delivering high quality educational packages across the globe and Futurelearn provides further opportunities for students to access the best of British higher education. As the UK’s most socially inclusive top-20 University, the opening up of higher education provision internationally accords with our ‘Elite without being Elitist’ status. By working together with a range of other leading UK universities, Leicester will make a distinctive contribution to the education of a wider range of participants through our decades of experience of delivering higher education through distance learning.”

Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham said:

“Futurelearn has the potential to be transformational.  It will help leverage the high quality academic resources and innovative technologies that UK higher education has to offer.  The breadth of access will capture a wider cohort of learners than is traditionally possible, further affirming the underpinning altruistic principles by which UK universities operate.  The University of Nottingham’s unique global footprint will be further enhanced by this development, and we look forward to working in collaboration with The Open University in this venture.”

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“Queen’s is delighted to be a partner in this exciting collaboration, which will extend access to our high quality educational content to students around the world. Increasing accessibility to higher education is an objective to which Queen’s is committed and this important initiative has the potential to provide opportunities to new audiences worldwide, including those who might not normally engage with universities.”

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, said:

“We are excited by the prospect of harnessing the very latest technology to provide a worldwide audience with opportunities to access high-quality, research-led teaching. Futurelearn will build on our existing technology-enhanced learning activities and will be an online addition to the global reach of many of our other projects, including our new campus development in Malaysia. We hope it will also provide a window into the latest thinking of University of Reading academics working in areas of international significance, such as climate science, nutrition and food security.”

Futurelearn was launched by The Open University and the new partners join existing partners from the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick.

The first Futurelearn courses will be open to students in the second half of 2013.

Read about Martin Bean’s vision for Futurelearn
Read and interview with Martin Bean in India Education