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Universities scrutinize online courses

The European Universities Association (EUA) is launching a task force to follow developments of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and consider how institutions should work with and recognise them.

The decision to investigate MOOCs follows a discussion at an EUA meeting, held in Istanbul at the end of January. A report on MOOCs, written by the EUA’s head of higher education policy Michael Gaebel and published in January, served as a basis for the discussion.

The report reviews the development of MOOCs, which are free, online, not-for-credit university courses. The courses started up in the US around 2008, mainly initiated by young professors, and the involvement of elite universities helped the concept attract attention. They are run by a handful of companies, such as Coursera, Edx, and Udemy, each with slightly different management schemes.

The EUA report concludes that MOOCs attract hundreds of thousands of students and offer top-quality education for free, and are definitely worth watching. It is not yet clear how the courses will themselves evolve or how they will affect higher education in Europe. But, “the fact that they currently get so much attention and cause controversial discussions gives hope that this might inspire a much broader debate on learning and teaching in higher education that seems long overdue”, the report said.

In addition to the report, the EUA ran a survey on the internationalisation of higher education, to which almost 200 universities responded. It revealed that universities need more information about MOOCs, but are generally interested in them.

One-third of the respondents had not heard of the courses and another third knew of them, but had not discussed them in their institution. Many respondents did not have a definite opinion on the courses and 85 per cent said they need more information about them.

Still, more than half of the respondents said that MOOCs should be further developed in Europe.

Last week, MOOC companies Coursera and Edx both announced substantial expansions. Coursera added 29 new universities from the US, Mexico, Europe and Asia, bringing its list of institutions offering courses up to 62. Edx added six universities in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, bringing its list to 12.