The Open University of the United States was given permission to start teaching students last week by the Middle States Colleges and Universities Commission.
"This gives us power to extend our operations across the whole of the US," said Richard Lewis, interim chancellor of the OU-US. "Globalisation, the breaking down of barriers and the mobility of people means that higher education is becoming increasingly international. A university of our standing has got to be global."
Set up as a sister institution to The Open University, the OU-US intends to offer American degrees by distance learning. The university will not gain full accreditation until its first students have completed their courses and their quality has been judged.
However, it has been accepted as a candidate for accreditation. "This represents our acceptance into the US club," said Mr Lewis.
The OU-US will also be able to offer American degrees to overseas students. "There may well be areas of the world where a US degree is of interest," added Mr Lewis.
The first students, who all work for an international pharmaceutical company, will start a business studies course on May 1. Although only about 20 will enrol, the OU-US envisages the total number of students to expand into the thousands within two years.
OU-US plans to offer an MBA course and a masters in computing by the year 2000, plus postgraduate-level short courses in computing. It already has several partner institutions. Florida State University and California State University have set aside a total of $7.5 million to start their collaboration with the OU-US.
The Western Governors University is also a partner. For a fee, the WGU provides students with access to 300 courses offered by 30 colleges and universities in the western states of the US.
Both the OU-US and the WGU are putting $4 million into a joint venture - the Governors Open University System - that will provide distance-learning courses accredited by these 30 institutions plus, in due course, the OU-US.
The OU-US is also in talks with several other education organisations in the US. "There is a whole raft of ways in which you can work with American colleges and universities," said Mr Lewis.
n Jones International University - also known as the University of the Web - gained full accreditation from one of the six regional accreditation bodies in the US last week. The university can now award its own degrees throughout the US and abroad. "We are the first 100 per cent virtual university to receive accreditation," said Glenn Jones, who founded the university.