Finally realizing that they were substantially behind other countries in the MOOC space (massive open online courses), Minister of Higher Education Geneviève Fioraso decided to launch France Université Numérique (referred to, of course, as FUN) in response. Thus far 35k+ have signed-up since registrations opened on October 2nd. While certainly a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people participating in MOOCs in other markets, this is, at the very least, a positive sign that there is a need and a demand for open online education in France.
The classes are set to kick-off Q1 2014 and will offer 25 courses across 7 areas: environment, law, management, digital & technology, health, science, and humanities. Interestingly, some of France’s top schools (aka les grandes écoles) will be offering courses in FUN. Other than giving FUN more credibility and, arguably, more prestige, involving grandes écoles is particularly important for two key reasons. Firstly, it opens up these schools, which accept a very limited number of students each year, to the general public, exposing many to institutions that they likely would not have had the chance to be exposed to previously. Secondly, FUN needs to include these types of educational institutions in order to be in the same league with MOOCs on offer in other markets (ie courses from Harvard, Cambridge, and the like). At the same time though, France is also starting to see its top universities looking to partner with other MOOCs that have more global reach. Case point, Ecole Polytechnique which announced last spring that it is linking up with MOOC leader Coursera.
While it’s unlikely that FUN will ever attain the sheer numbers of participants as Coursera which has 1 million users or Khan Academy whose mini-courses have been viewed 300 million times on You Tube, it is encouraging that France is finally starting to warm to MOOCs and actively participate in this rapidly evolving space.