Universities battling to capture the worldwide market

Following the 2003 demise of Fathom, an online venture between prestigious British and American universities offering over 2,000 online courses, recently the acclaimed AllLearn e-learning venture between Yale, Stanford and Oxford Universities collapsed. Founded in 2001, despite offering 110 online courses from three of the world's most prestigious universities to over 10,000 worldwide participants AllLearn failed to attract enough students to make the project viable. AllLearn's president S. Kristin Kim stated the cost of offering top-quality enrichment courses at affordable prices was unsustainable but added that each university would use the experience gained to improve their own online courses. Indeed, barely pausing for breath, the University of Oxford plans on launching a number of new courses over the next 12 months ranging from statistics for health researchers to northern Renaissance art.

When it comes to success, Britain's flagship of distance learning, the indomitable Open University (OU) continues to blaze a trail. In October this year it will become the first institution in the UK to offer free course materials online. These will include all levels from access to postgraduate study and embrace a full range of subject themes, including arts and history, business and management, languages and science and nature. Apart from its own students and later the general public, the project is also aimed at assisting students in countries who are unable to access textbooks or good course material. The Open University is following in the footsteps of its American counterparts such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that offers most of its course materials free online and has plans for further expansion.

Providing even more to its 210,000 students worldwide, the OU recently combined forces with the University of Manchester to develop combined degree programmes targeting the overseas students markets particularly in developing countries such as India and China. Ultimately, overseas students will be able to combine study in the UK with distance learning in their home countries to reduce the cost of international higher education. The Open University's new postgraduate course War, Intervention and Development taught entirely online is proving popular. Partially funded by government the course aptly emphasises a peace building and development approach to dealing with violent conflicts.

Still focusing on targeting the global market and internationalism, the University of Staffordshire (http://www.staffs.ac.uk) is offering a distance-learning MA International Policy and Diplomacy addressing key issues associated with the way countries of the world co-exist in the face of rapid change. It aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of problems associated with developing and implementing global policy, the operation of modern diplomacy and the process of governance in a complex world. The University of Birmingham http://www.idd.bham.ac.uk recently launched a distance-learning version of the Public Service MBA, its first distance-learning programme for public administrators and other managers in the public sector. Intakes are conveniently accepted in September, January and May. Plans are afoot to roll out more distance learning programmes beginning with an MSc in Public Administration and Development for September 2006 followed by a distance learning version of the university's full-time MSc in Poverty Reduction and Development Management in 2007. The latter programme is designed for both development professionals and those seeking to enter the development sector and covers everything on the subject of poverty from the causes to the solutions.

Diplomas and certificates will also be offered for those who don't want to commit to the entire MSc. Always offering innovative courses, Oxford Distance Learning (http://www.oxfordcollege.ac.uk) has introduced a Life Coaching Diploma that can lead to a rewarding and lucrative career option in a fast growing field. The Oxford Distance Learning certification includes topics such as interviewing clients, relationships, addiction, career and business coaching and will enable students to be able to coach on an individual, group or corporate level. Depending on the speed at which students learn, the course involves around 125 hours of study time. For anyone who wants to realise their dream of owning their own business or improving their existing efforts, Learning at Home (http://www.learning-at-home.co.uk) is offering a new course is Profit for Business. Encompassing everything from a business plan to accounting, the course leads to the award of the Introduction to self-employment National Award from ASET, a leading UK awarding body recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. For aspiring entrepreneurs who need a business idea, there are a whole host of training courses via distance learning. One of the latest offerings from Learning at Home is an accredited Wedding Planner Diploma.

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