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iTunes Open University reaches over 40m downloads

In November 2010, it was announced that university student fees would increase to up to £9,000 per year. This resulted in a scrabble for university places in August this year, as people rushed to beat the increase in fees. Whilst some were determined to join the already established higher education system, others searched for alternatives.

Since its launch four years ago, iTunes U has seen a surge in international interest in its services, which offer downloads of video and audio recordings of lectures. The Open University, founded in England, now shares international leadership in user activity with Stanford University, recently reaching over 40 million downloads for its course materials.

The introduction of mobile technology such as the Apple iPad and iPhone has widely enabled users to “study on the move”, with one in five of the Open University iTunes U visits from users of Apple iPads.  Currenty, the iTunes U service runs at a rate of 300 million downloads per year, with 350,000 lectures offered by more than 1,000 universities around the world.

Its top ten currently includes  materials from Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and NASA’s Space Academy. The Open University is number two. One question is whether this new technology could lead to a new era of online study, considering the recent increase in university fees.

The price and convenience lend it an advantage over conventional university education, and might also become a particular advantage for mature students, who may need to continue their employment whilst studying. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the United States has confirmed the importance of online study with its most recent report figures.

According to this report, between the years 2000 – 2008 the percentage of students who took at least one web-based class rose 12 percent, and those engaging in entirely online-based degrees rose two percent. Since it was announced that England would increase its cap on university fees, thousands of students raised concerns that they were being “priced out of education”.

With the recent substantial growth in online education, this could offer future students access to what is becoming an increasingly exclusive university education system.

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