Lunch-time lectures go on net

January 7, 2000

The internet is to provide a new lease of life for two of the oldest colleges in London.

Tim O'Shea, master of Birkbeck, who is also to take up the post of provost of Gresham College from next month, is planning to use the web to make lectures delivered to City workers in their lunch hours available worldwide.

When Gresham College was founded in 1597 it showed its commitment to access by delivering lectures twice, once in Latin and once in English.

Since then, as an independently funded educational institution, it has welcomed anyone who lives or works in the City of London to free public lectures.

Now Professor O'Shea, who chairs the London Area Metropolitan Network connecting all of the higher education institutions across the capital electronically, wants to update the way it delivers this mission.

"What Gresham is doing is going back to its roots," he said. "When it was founded it was an incredibly modern institution. Teaching open access was pretty daring for 1597. With technology, I think we can put that back."

Under the new plans, lectures delivered at Gresham would be simultaneously transmitted over the web and audiences all over the world would be able to ask questions via email.

The college is in the process of advertising for three new chairs - in music, popular culture and rhetoric. Each will be appointed on the understanding that their lectures will be transmitted over the web, and first steps to set up the link will start next term.

At least one of the lecture series is likely to start online by the end of the year.

Links between Gresham and Birkbeck, founded in 1823 as the first institution to offer working Londoners access to a university education, will also be strengthened.

"Gresham will not recruit paying students and Birkbeck will not recruit Gresham professors, but I will be very pleased if more Gresham professors work more at Birkbeck," said Professor O'Shea.

Funding for the scheme is likely to come from City institutions and livery companies. Advice has already been sought from the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, and Gresham also has strong links with the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

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