Edinburgh university is the first in the UK to offer a selection of free online courses, including one that teaches students about UFOs and the search for extraterrestrial life.
The Scottish institution is to join the Coursera consortium, a US-based organisation set up to provide free higher education taster sessions online.
Among the five week courses open to anyone, is the curious-sounding "Introduction to Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life" tutored by Professor Charles Cockell, the academic who led Project Boreas, which planned and designed a research station for the Martian North Pole.
Students who enrol on Cockell's course will study the potential for life elsewhere in the universe, including how life survives in "extreme environments."
As part of this introduction to astrobiology, a discipline defined as "the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe and space exploration", the possibility of intelligent alien life will be probed.
The subject of the course captures the popular imagination
Students will discuss how Earth might deal with extraterrestrial contact and what impact on society these aliens may have. In questions reminiscent of Tim Burton's acerbic movie Mars Attack, those enrolled will debate who might represent Earth in the event of extraterrestrial contact.
Tim Burton's Mars Attack is often satirical in its portrayal of how America might deal with an alien invasion
Edinburgh is offering five of these courses, officially known as as a Massive Open Online Courses or MOOC's. They include Artificial Intelligence Planning and Equine Nutrition, as well as one that offers an Introduction To Philosophy and another on 'E-learning and Digital Cultures.'
"We took the decision to offer courses that reflect our specific strengths," said Ranald Leask, a spokesman for Edinburgh university told The Daily Telegraph.
Although anyone can embark upon the course from any location, completing the study will not result in a formal qualification. However other British universities are likely to follow suit. The Coursera programme, set up by professors from Stanford, is partnered with several Ivy League universities in the US and claims to have taught thousands of students worldwide.
University principal Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea told the Press Association: "Enabling wider access to excellent higher education is part of the core mission of the University of Edinburgh. We are therefore excited to join with our peers in North America in the Coursera consortium to offer massive open online courses on topics in which we have particular strengths."
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