Two of Australia’s Top Universities to Offer MOOCs

Most of the world’s top universities are adopting an online education model, and now two of Australia’ top universities have decided to join them by offering free online courses. According to Josephine Tovey of The Sydney Morning Herald, the University of New South Wales and the University of Western Australia announced that they will fully embrace massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The universities will partner with Coursera, a provider of the free courses that also runs online courses for Stanford, Columbia and dozens of other universities in the United States.

The University of NSW’s acting vice-chancellor Professor Iain Martin said a partnership with Coursera would help boost the university’s digital education profile.

“Importantly, it is also an excellent opportunity to incorporate some of the best online teaching practices and technological advancements into degree programs taught at UNSW,” he said.

The University of NSW plans to offer courses in science and engineering to begin in 2014.

Though many universities are rolling out MOOCs, some critics say this education model is a threat to the traditional education system. Pointing to high non-completion rates and a continuing preference among employers for qualifications gained at an institution, critics argue the advent of MOOCs has been over-hyped.

The United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney recently published a report stating that free online courses do not pose any threat, arguing that these online courses could offer opportunities to universities to better use technology and gain a greater global profile.

The report argues the internet is challenging universities in the same way it has challenged other businesses such as the music industry, and swift adaptation is required. University degrees are increasingly like a live concert by a band, the report says – immersive, at a cost and only available to a limited number of people – while the providers of MOOCs are the “iTunes of higher education”, making a much cheaper version of the music available to all online.

In addition, Open Universities Australia has joined MOOC provider network this year. The university is offering free courses to 25,000 students with a completion rate of about 26%.

FutureLearn, which is wholly-owned by the UK’s Open University, recently announced that it is working to develop online courses and become a significant MOOC provider to join the conversation with Coursera and Udacity.

FutureLearn Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Simon Nelson said that 21 top universities have partnered with FutureLearn and would provide online courses through its platform. In June 2013, Monash, which is the largest university in Australia, announced that it had joined FutureLearn as its first non-UK partner.

FutureLearn was looking for five and possibly ten international partner institutions, Nelson said, adding that the company also had discussions with a number of other Australian universities.