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British Council joins Futurelearn’s growing consortia

Futurelearn says it will be offering its first free courses from mid-2013

Speaking at the Going Global conference this week in Dubai, Jo Beall, The British Council’s Director of Education and Society confirmed the organisation’s involvement will include accreditation and assessment, English language training, and content creation.

“The ‘massive’ in MOOCs is about reaching very large numbers which means developing English language skills”

“The ‘massive’ in MOOCs is about reaching very large numbers which means developing English language skills,” Beall said. “We are hoping to be able to work with one or more universities to develop content around intercultural fluency and international awareness. We already do this in a way but not in such an ambitious way.”

A further five universities joined Futurelearn last month bringing the total number of partnerships to 19 including Notthingham, Reading, Warwick and King’s College London.

In a statement, The British Council’s Chief Executive Martin Davidson said that the collaboration will allow for greater expansion. “We hope that our recognised experience in English language learning and delivering assessments and examinations in nearly a hundred countries will contribute to making FutureLearn even more attractive for ambitious learners around the world.”

Launched at the end of last year in a bid for UK institutions to “fight back” in the US dominated MOOC scene, Futurelearn says it will be offering its first free courses from mid-2013.

MOOCs have dominated debates since US-based Coursera, EdX and Udacity registered more than 3.5 million students within a year of launching. Skeptics argue that the role they will play in higher education, how they will prove financially beneficial and what level of quality they can offer students remains to be seen.

“We hope this would become popular not only for those interested in university but for people looking at skills including employability”

Until now there has been no widespread acceptance of MOOC courses for university credit which shows that students are using the courses for personal or professional improvement, something the British Council is keen to contribute to.

“We hope this would become popular not only for those interested in university but for people looking at skills including employability,” said Beall.

The initiative is backed by the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, who said in a statement: “Futurelearn is an excellent demonstration of the UK’s commitment to extending the benefits of the UK’s best institutions using technology coupled with first-class teaching and learning.”

Willetts has been an avid campaigner of online learning both as an answer to the global demand for higher education but also as “the most powerful recruitment tool universities will have”.

The Open University is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in distance learning. Since it began in 1969, it has taught more than 1.8 million students and has almost 250,000 current students, including over 15,000 overseas.

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