The University of Wollongong has joined a revolutionary global network that aims to make inexpensive university degrees available to the millions who can’t afford them.The 13 network members are developing full courses, individual modules, course materials and e-textbooks to make public from August next year. Anyone will be able to study the material for free, then pay if they want work assessed and a record kept - potentially as little as 20 per cent of the usual tuition package.The University of Wollongong is the second Australian institution to join the Open Educational Resources (OER) Tertiary Education Network after founding partner the University of Southern Queensland. UOW executive director of learning and teaching Sandra Wills said the OER model was based on providing for free course content that had already been prepared for fee-paying students, and avoided the additional costs involved in supporting the running of a campus.Courses would be run at a distance by academics volunteering their time.‘‘Fee-paying students are paying for being at the university, for the campus experience and all the services that we provide in addition to a course,’’ Professor Wills said. ‘‘People studying at a distance are usually very much on their own.‘‘The economic benefit is exposure of the University of Wollongong name - and of our best teachers - worldwide.’’Network members are deciding which modules to introduce initially as pilots. UOW is likely to propose a version of the subject, Politics, the Community and the Common Good, which already ran ‘‘in the open’’ - free to the wider community alongside fee-paying students - over the 2009-10 summer.Subject co-ordinator Glenn Mitchell said the course had a great impact on students who had never been involved with a university.‘‘It took those students to places intellectually and academically that they had never been before,’’ he said.‘‘For some of the students it excited them so much that they either began to seriously think about going and doing a degree or some actually enrolled in a degree.’’ Others, like recent Year 12 graduate Emma Lee, used the course as a ‘‘taster’’, helping her to decide on a history and politics major.‘‘There were a lot of voluntary students there like myself and they felt quite empowered by the subject,’’ said Miss Lee, now a Dean’s Scholar in her second year of study at UOW.‘‘Knowledge is power. The chance for more people to have that power is a good thing.’’ The not-for-profit entity that co-ordinates the network has estimated OER courses with assessments could cost as little as 20 per cent of the existing fee.Co-founders of the scheme include Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand and Athabasca University in Canada.