When the higher education sector pioneered massive open online courses (or Moocs, as they are more commonly known) it was heralded as an exciting step towards accessible education for all.

For the first time, access to university-level education was no longer dependent on merit or means but simply on enthusiasm and commitment, The Guardian reports.

Investing in the content of such online courses was worthwhile, universities decided, because they would help attract would-be students to their traditional. fee-charging degree qualifications. They would act as tasters to lure students to the educational feast universities had to offer.

But did vice-chancellors get it wrong? Demographic data from the first wave of Moocs suggests a different story. A University of London study tracked four new Mooc courses launched with the US-based provider Coursera in autumn 2013, each lasting six weeks and designed as an introduction to a particular subject.

It found that more men than women studied for Moocs – with a male to female gender ratio of 64:36, while the majority of students (22%) lived in the United States. India accounted for the second biggest proportion of students, with just 6% of participants. The UK came third, making up 5% of candidates.

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