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17 January 2013
From Bangor to Brasilia, Newport to New Dehli or Brynamman to Beijing, open access to Welsh higher education has taken a major step forward with the launch of a new, free, open online learning platform.Through a new company set-up by the Open University (OU), Futurelearn Ltd, and the aid of the internet, you will be able to experience some of Cardiff University’s most inspiring teaching for free. Best of all, you can fit it around your personal work, family and social commitments.
At a time when UK Higher Education is moving towards an ever more competitive environment, with universities increasingly vying for students, why should a University like Cardiff effectively provide learning for free?The answer is simple: it’s a win-win for Cardiff University and for Wales.Cardiff is joining together with some of the UK’s best universities in the shape of Bristol, Birmingham, Exeter and King’s College, London matched by the OU’s decades of experience in world-class distance learning.
It’s also about breaking down barriers. It could be a former Cardiff steelworker who always aspired to study at Cardiff but never had the chance or time to do so, or the former Cardiff student I met at an alumni event who was looking to gain new skills to help her return to work, whilst juggling her hectic family life.For the first time both of them will be able to access teaching from top-class Cardiff academics regardless of their location, financial means, personal, work or family circumstances: the democratisation of education, in its purest form.It will also help put Cardiff – and Wales – firmly on the map.Now we can take some of the best education in Wales to the world, and bring the world of higher education to learners in Wales.It was not a question of whether we should do this, but how and how quickly. The area of Open Educational Resources is moving fast as the internet transforms access to learning globally.With US giants like Harvard and Yale taking the lead, we can't afford to be left behind when opportunities like this come up, especially if Cardiff University aspires to be among the top 100 universities in the world. But let’s be clear: this won’t replace the traditional campus experience. Nor should it.Nor does it offer a free Cardiff University degree. If it did, I’d have thousands of former and current Cardiff University students knocking at my door, asking for their fees back. Anybody who wants to earn a qualification will need to enrol with us.But we hope it will inspire more people to expand their horizons, breaking down the traditional barriers and dispelling the myth that access to a Russell Group university like Cardiff is for a privileged few.The next couple of months are going to be very exciting as the number and scope of the Cardiff courses available will be finalised and publicised.Anyone interested in these new opportunities should watch this space – or should I say, watch this on-line space.
This article first appeared in the Western Mail on 17 January 2013.
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