TWO top South African universities are, for the first time, offering "massive online open courses" (MOOCs) to thousands of students through international MOOC providers.

The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) on Wednesday said it was partnering with nonprofit MOOC provider EdX, which was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The EdX community in Africa has more than 200,000 students who will now be able to access free courses offered at Wits for which they will receive an EdX certificate on completion — and for which they will not have to pay a cent.

"What makes EdX unique is that it is nonprofit, open-source and collaborative. This means our partnership goes beyond the courses on offer. They invite universities on board who will also use this as an opportunity to research pedagogy and the ways in which technology can enhance learning," said Wits deputy vice-chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi.

Wits vice-chancellor and principal Adam Habib said: "Students from around the world will be able to access our international expertise in a variety of fields, ranging from economics and law to deep-level mining and the palaeosciences."

Wits head of communications Shirona Patel said the university had not yet finalised the list of actual courses "but they will be based on the strengths of Wits, which include, among others, the palaeosciences, deep-level mining, law, business, economics and the social sciences".

EdX CEO Anant Agarwal said that Wits University " is a premier research institution and our first university partner in Africa, and we welcome them to our global community of educators and learners ".

While the courses will be open for enrolment towards the end of next year, learners signing up for MOOCs through the University of Cape Town can enrol as early as next month.

University of Cape Town deputy vice-chancellor Sandra Klopper said: "The university has decided to develop its own MOOCs because it believes that the university has knowledge and learning that would be of interest to people both locally and in other parts of the world."

In June, the university announced it would be joining British-based MOOC provider FutureLearn.

Ms Klopper said MOOCs do not form part of its regular credit-bearing qualifications, but it encouraged students to sign up for a range of MOOCs at the university and further afield "for supplementary learning and personal development".

What makes EdX unique is that it is nonprofit, open-source and collaborative

Students around the world will be able to access our international expertise in a variety of fields