Twelve of the UK’s top universities have united to launch a new programme, known as Futurelearn, that will offer free degree-style online courses.
The move means they will be competing more with their US counterparts, who already offer similar online services. The new project will directly rival established US course platforms, including Coursera and Harvard-based edX that offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) to students globally.
UK Minister for Universities and Science responsible for higher education, David Willetts, said that UK must be at the forefront of developments in education technology.
"Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) present an opportunity for us to widen access to, and meet the global demand for, higher education," Willetts said. "This is growing rapidly in emerging economies like Brazil, India and China."
Aimed at offering public access to higher education courses through computers, tablets or smartphones, the project is expected to represent a major UK response to rapidly rising online universities.
According to Willetts, Futurelearn has the potential to place the UK at the heart of the technology for learning agenda through revolutionising conventional models of formal education.
The project, which will begin offering courses from 2013, involves the Open University, King’s College London, Bristol, Exeter, Warwick, East Anglia, Leeds, Lancaster, Southampton, Cardiff, Birmingham and St Andrews.