Postgraduates could have the option to study online at a leading UK university from next year.
The University of Exeter has announced an “international partnership” with education giant Pearson to develop online masters’ degrees.
The university says they are “currently researching the potential to deliver online postgraduate degrees in a variety of subjects”.
It adds: “It is intended that courses will start as early as September 2016.”
Pearson, best known in the UK as an educational publisher and owner of the Edexcel exam board, already helps run similar courses in the United States at Arizona State University, which offers more than 70 degrees entirely online at both graduate and undergraduate level.
The announcement says the Exeter degrees will allow students, many of whom will be fitting their studies around full-time jobs, to access course material when and where it suits them.
The university says it will focus initially on taught masters’ degrees which will be “competitively priced with ‘on the ground’ courses”.
The new courses will include weekly interactive online teaching sessions delivered from university faculties, it adds, while students who take degrees in this way would have to meet the same entry standards as those who study in person.
Exeter University’s provost, Prof Janice Kay, said the partnership offered exciting possibilities.
“The University is already well-known for its innovative approach and global ambitions and this initiative will help us realise our goals more quickly and effectively,” she explained.
The project would help widen access to higher education for vulnerable and disadvantaged people, Prof Kay added.
Pearson’s UK managing director, Mark Anderson, said the project represented “an opportunity to make the UK’s highest quality courses far more widely available”.
Exeter and Pearson will also collaborate to research issues such as progression to higher education for students with vocational rather than academic qualifications and the development of degree-apprenticeships.
A number of higher education institutions already provide online courses.
The Open University, the UK’s largest academic institution, is a world leader in flexible distance learning. It set up the Futurelearn platform, which carries massive open online courses from universities including Warwick, Kings College London and Sheffield which are taken by more than a million students,
Other online innovations from the OU include Open Science Lab, and the OU Anywhere app.
An Exeter University described the OU as “terrific” but said the new courses would explore “some of the really exciting work and discovery that’s happening at Exeter” as well as taking it “to as many people as possible around the globe”.
The aim would be to explore and test innovative and rigorously academic methods of delivery, said the spokesman.