EdX: Free University Education

I was lucky enough to go to University in the days where not only was tuition free but students got grants for living expenses (mainly beer and chips). Later in life my then employer paid for me to do an Open University Professional Certificate in Management. Today I’m doing courses at a variety of top Universities from around the world via EdX. These courses are completely free of charge. You can pay for verification and certificates if you want at nominal cost but if it is the learning you are after it won’t cost a penny. Currently I have courses at Berkeley and University of Washington on the go. This is all done via online videos and other course materials. Courses delivered to thousands of students globally at the same time, paid for by the verification fees from a relatively small number of those.

Whilst Oxford University has a single course available, no other British University seems represented, yet US and Australian institutions are enthusiastic participants. It strikes me that we, as a country, are way behind the curve here. It is disappointing.

Is the purpose of University education to educate the people, especially the workforce? Countries that invest in education reap the rewards in terms of productivity many times over. Or is it to maximise the fee income of universities? Like retail moving more and more online and high streets changing beyond recognition forever, so education at this level will start to move the same way. No longer will students be restricted by geography but, for many subjects that don’t require physical attendance, they can choose from any university in any country.

Here is my suggestion for a Lib Dem education policy. Within 2 years every publicly funded UK university should have at least one free course available on the EdX platform – centrally coordinated by the Open University to avoid too much duplication of content. The cost would be relatively low and perhaps self-funding via the verification fees, the benefits significant, and because the EdX platform is global, it helps sell the UK as a major centre of learning, up with if not ahead of the game. In case anyone is tempted by the suggestion, no, we should not set up our own platform. Why reinvent wheels and a major plank of the EdX approach is that it is a truly global collaboration not under the control of one country. Whilst our Government shouldn’t control the platform, it can oblige participation.

This ties in with current policy to give everyone a Personal Education and Skills Account to help them pay for education and training in later life – at least £3,000 three times over the course of their adult life, from age 25. That £3,000 times three would go an awful long way in validation and certification fees using EdX.

In the meantime I would encourage all to look at what is available from current EdX partners and take advantage of some of the best free education in the world.