The Open University is strengthening its global position in higher education. Alison Utley reports on moves to run British teaching programmes; Kam Patel on initial American successes
The Open University's plans to set up a subsidiary in the United States have received a big boost with US education authorities accepting the offshoot as eligible for accreditation.
Bob Masterton, managing director of OU Worldwide, the university's commercial arm, said the decision means The Open University of the United States (OU-US) has cleared the first hurdle to achieving full US accreditation.
The move coincides with two key US supporters, Florida State University and California State University, setting aside a total of $7.5 million to start their collaboration with OU-US.
FSU expects to have to cater for an extra 100,000 students by 2005. In the absence of state permission to build new campuses, it believes that the OU's distance learning could help meet the demand. FSU has earmarked $2.5 million for the link. Computer science, IT studies and liberal arts are among the courses being developed.
CSU has 375,000 students. It expects to have more than 500,000 by 2010, with particularly high demand for teacher training courses. The OU's PGCE scheme is being adapted for use by CSU.
The next big step for the OU-US will take place when an accreditation team from Middle States Colleges and Universities Commission, one of six US regional accrediting bodies, visits Milton Keynes in November. Mr Masterton said: "The team will want to examine in detail our proposals for delivering courses. This should lead to the OU-US being awarded candidacy status by February, which effectively allows us to begin delivering courses to students. Full accreditation is given only once students have graduated and their quality judged."
OU-US aims to launch some courses next autumn, with those for FSU phased in from spring 2000.
While candidacy status will enable OU-US to access private funds, securing public funds is more difficult. "The public funding rules as they stand do not cover distance learning. But there is an act going through Congress covering a huge range of higher education policy issues, which could open up funding for it."
The OU-US board will meet for the first time in October.
Mr Masterton said that similar OU subsidiaries were being "seriously considered" for a number of other countries.