Open University to get US funding

Open University on a mobile The Open University has been applying its distance-learning experience to global projects

The UK's Open University is to receive funding from the United States to improve staying-on rates among poorer students in US colleges.

The Open University (OU) is to provide online courses to improve basic maths for students in community colleges.

The $750,000 (£458,000) pilot project will help students in 10 US colleges - and will be extended if successful.

The project is intended to bolster the maths of students who might otherwise drop out before graduating.

There have been worries in the United States about the number of students who fail to complete degree courses - particularly among students from low-income backgrounds.

Global markets

The OU materials will provide an online "safety net" to help students whose difficulties with maths could stop them progressing.

The project is run by Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) - a partnership of US public education officials, educational technology companies and charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to the NGLC, only 26% of low-income students who enrol successfully gain bachelors degrees.

This is against a background in which the US jobs market is becoming tougher for those without degrees - with forecasts that by the end of the decade almost two thirds of US jobs will need education beyond secondary level.

This venture, being piloted in colleges in Maryland until June 2012, is the first such project by the Open University in the US higher education market.

"The intention is to scale this up," says Patrick McAndrew, associate director at the OU's Institute of Educational Technology.

The funding will allow the OU to explore how such projects can be developed more widely, applying the university's experience of distance learning in an increasingly globalised higher education sector.

The Open University, which has been a pioneer of distance learning in the UK since the 1960s, has been developing its international profile.

While a growing number of UK and US universities have been setting up bases overseas, the OU has been developing ways of using the internet to deliver courses to an international audience, operating in 23 countries.

It has also become the biggest global provider of online downloads on the iTunes U service.

This allows students to download lectures from universities around the world - and the Open University has been the first to reach 30 million downloads, more than 90% of which were from outside the UK.

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