London joins US-based online university Coursera

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent

Senate HouseThe University of London’s international section is joining a rapidly expanding US-based online university project.

It is part of the latest wave of new partners for the Coursera online platform – alongside universities in Hong Kong, Australia and the US.

There are now more than 30 universities offering online courses on this platform, with 1.3 million students.

Edinburgh University became the first UK university to join this year.

Online universities have become increasingly high-profile – with the California-based Coursera one of the emerging major players.

Coursera, backed by venture capital, offers a platform for universities to deliver courses on the internet, currently without any charge to the student.

In its first term it is offering more than 200 courses.

Invigilated exams

University of London International Programmes will offer five courses through Coursera, in subjects including psychology, law and computer programming.

Student using tablet computer The spread of tablet computers has accelerated the use of online courses

This will mean that the University of London, one of the great Victorian pioneers of offering courses to external students, will be joining the latest Silicon Valley project to deliver courses to a global audience.

Jonathan Kydd, dean of University of London International Programmes, said he hoped that some of the students who used the free courses on Coursera might apply to full degree courses.

The university’s external access programme, running since the 1850s, currently has 52,000 students in 180 countries and 600 examination centres worldwide.

Coursera, set up by academics in Stanford University, provides courses which so far do not generally provide accredited degrees or course units. They allow students to follow courses online, but they do not award degrees for these students.

But there have been steps towards ways of accrediting and verifying the work carried out by online students.

Another major online university consortium – edX, set up by Harvard and MIT – has an arrangement for online students to sit invigilated exams.

Among the universities being announced on Wednesday as additional partners of Coursera are Brown, Florida and Vanderbilt in the US, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, University of British Columbia in Canada and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

There has been growing interest in the United States in the development of delivering courses on the internet – not least because it provides an alternative to the spiralling costs and debts associated with traditional campus-based courses.

“We set out to make education accessible to everyone around the world, and seeing our vision come to life has been an incredible experience,” said Coursera’s co-founder, Daphne Koller.

“With the addition of the exceptional, forward-thinking institutions coming on board today, we’re proud to offer an even more diverse experience to our students.”