14/12/2012 04:46 GMT | Updated 14/12/2012 05:58 GMT

Top Universities To Offer Free Online Courses

Leading universities are backing a new venture offering students free access to courses.

Futurelearn, launched by the Open University, will bring together a range of free online courses, with the aim of increasing accessibility to higher education.

A number of universities have signed up to the initiative, including those at Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Warwick and London's King's College.

Universities minister David Willetts welcomed the announcement, adding: "The 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. This is growing rapidly in emerging economies like Brazil, India and China.

"Futurelearn has the potential to put the UK at the heart of the technology for learning agenda by revolutionising conventional models of formal education. New online delivery tools will also create incredible opportunities for UK entrepreneurs to reach world markets by harnessing technology and innovation in the field of education."

Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University, said online courses had the potential to bring about "long-lasting change" to higher education.

The move follows in the steps of Harvard University, who in June this year, teamed up with the Massachusetts Institution of Technology to offer free online courses to anyone with an internet connection.

Edinburgh University was also ahead of the pack, launching open online courses in July, and has already had more than 200,000 people from around the world sign up.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "This significant initiative is an excellent opportunity to help expand the opportunities for UK students, and students from around the world, to engage with the high-quality content that UK universities have to offer.

"The OU has the experience and know-how to help the UK remain at the forefront of the rapid development of digital and web technologies in the delivery of higher education."