Anyone can be a student in Coursera’s online classroom, but only the top universities in the world can offer classes through the popular site.

That’s according to a new contract from Coursera, in which the company agrees to use its platform for content provided by only “top-quality” educational institutions. Within North America, Coursera classes only use content from universities that are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), a group of the 62 top research institutions in North America. The AAU includes Ivy League schools, such as Yale and Harvard, as well as many state schools, such as Texas A&M and the University of Kansas.

Coursera also partners with select international institutions, according to the document: For universities outside the United States, only those counted among the top five in their nation may use the Coursera platform.

However, Coursera can make exceptions to these rules. It has created a University Advisory Board, which will help make academic decisions, including allowing new schools to sign up for the online services, serving as the final arbiter in any disagreements or disputes and reviewing the platform to make suggestions.

Coursera is one of the leading MOOC (mass open online course) providers, a group of organizations that seeks to democratize education by making it widely and readily available to more people. Universities are eager to capitalize on this growing trend, as reported by Moody’s Investor Service in September 2012.

Moody’s cautioned that some smaller colleges, as well as for-profit education companies, might get left out of the trend as online networks develop between MOOC providers and schools. But overall, the report noted, the higher-education sector will benefit from the rush to offer more classes. It will also lead to operational efficiencies as insitutions deliver more courses at a lower cost. MOOCs can also help universities heighten their brand recognition across the globe by removing geographic barriers to attracting students and faculty.

Coursera has signed contracts with more than 60 schools, including Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, Delft University of Technology, the University of Toronto, and The Chinese University of Hong Kong. It has more than 2.8 million active users, and students can learn foreign languages such as Spanish, Italian, Chinese or French through Coursera classes. Schools will have access to video and audio transcripts of classes, the ability to collect and display crowd-sourced annotations and participate in a unified communications platform.


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