Free online courses may help universities to recruit more overseas students directly by helping to forge links with potential applicants, universities and science minister David Willetts has told an international conference.
Speaking at the main opening of Going Global, in Dubai on 5 March, Mr Willetts said higher education institutions should consider how massive open online courses could be harnessed to boost their physical intake.
He told the audience at the conference, the British Council’s major annual event for higher education leaders around the world, that online courses could “weaken the power of agents”.
Traditionally such agents have been a key method for UK universities to recruit international students from their home countries.
“We may see students start to study in their home country and then study abroad at an institution that is familiar with their performance online,” he said.
However, Mr Willetts said universities needed to think carefully about their online provision.
“Some [courses] are little better than filming a university lecture and putting it online - that does not convey the value-added [quality] of higher education,” he said.
Mr Willetts also praised the United Arab Emirates for helping foreign universities to establish overseas branch campuses in the state, where there are 37 such institutions.
“This is the right place to hold our conference as the UAE [has] here the single greatest concentration of [overseas] campuses in the world,” he said. “This is global higher education in microcosm.”
Meanwhile, Jo Beall, director of education and society at the British Council, told the opening of the conference that recent research highlighted the importance of international cooperation between higher education institutions.
“The vast majority of Nobel prize winners have studied at some point outside the country of their birth,” Professor Beall said.
“The most cited [research] papers are also those research collaborations between international authors,” she added. “It is in all of our interests to work in collaboration with others.”