OU goes for global presence

June 23, 2006

The Open University is seeking to become a global online university by building new partnerships at home and abroad.

In a major document called OU Futures , the university, which already has 40,000 students outside the UK, acknowledges that it must extend its global reach if it is to maintain its lead in distance learning. It is also clear that it must seek new income sources as UK government funding falls.

Brenda Gourley, the OU's vice-chancellor, said that the plans did not involve a revamp of the government-backed e-university initiative, which was wound up after failing to attract enough students. "I can spot a dead horse when I see one," she said.

Instead, the document reveals how the OU intends to develop more international partnerships and new online courses that will extend its global reach.

Professor Gourley said: "In the past, we have tended to help countries such as India set up their own Open Universities. Now we are looking to more collaborative long-term arrangements."

For example, she said, the OU is seeking to expand the Arab Open University, which is based largely in Saudi Arabia, and is envisaging a long-term partnership.

It has also recently signed a deal with NIIT, Asia's largest IT education trainer, enabling thousands of students to work towards an OU degree in IT.

A key part of the OU's emphasis on online learning is the open content initiative. The £5.65 million project, supported by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, was inspired by the commitment of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make course material available on the web for free.

* The Open University in Scotland has just launched its plans for the next five years, saying that part-time flexible learning is key to Scotland's future. It calls for an end to tuition fees for its part-time students.

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