U.K. MOOCs Alliance, Futurelearn, Adds Five More Universities And The British Library — Now Backed By 18 Partners

Futurelearn, the U.K.’s first large-scale alliance between traditional higher education institutions aimed at testing the waters of MOOCs (massively open online courses), has bolstered the number of partners signed up to offer free courses. Five more universities are joining the original 12 announced last December, along with the British Library — which has signed an agreement with Futurelearn to develop online courses using BL resources.

The British Library’s addition to the roster is interesting, being as, although it runs some workshops and training courses, it’s not a traditional higher education institution — underlining how MOOCs’ campus-less, remotely delivered education model broadens the pool of potential education providers, as well as widening access for students.

The five new university signs-up to Futurelearn are the universities of Bath, Leicester, Nottingham, Queen’s Belfast and Reading. The original 12 who formed Futurelearn are:  Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds,  Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick, along with UK distance-learning organization The Open University (OU).

Commenting on joining Futurelearn in a statement, 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.”

Futurelearn has yet to provide details on the types of courses it will offer, or the ultimate business model for monetizing free education. But its current focus appears to be on tapping into the global opportunity for student acquisition. Six Futurelearn partners have been accompanying the U.K. Prime Minister on a business and skills trip to India — where they are raising awareness about Futurelearn to the large numbers of overseas students who are excluded from accessing U.K. higher education institutions under the traditional tuition fee-charging model.

According to information on its website, Futurelearn will offer its “first tranche of courses” this year. “Free, open online courses are an exciting addition to the Higher Education landscape – they challenge established views of how people access high quality university teaching. It is clear that there is a growing demand for this kind of study,” it adds.

Despite gaining considerable backing from U.K. universities, including several Red Brick universities, some of the U.K.’s most academically prestigious higher education institutions — including London’s Imperial College and the London School of Economics, and the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford — are not currently participating in Futurelearn.