From next year students will be able to log onto a virtual university to supplement or even replace their conventional learning, but only if they have fat pipes to their homes.

The initative comes courtesy of Boxmind, a company founded by Oxford graduates that has attracted a number of top Oxford dons and is seeking to be an application service provider (ASP) for academia.

Boxmind will offer courses and resources to both the public and the universities.

But the service will not be for everyone. Richard Halkett, CEO of Boxmind admits that the media-intensive lectures will require an broadband internet connection.

With virtually all higher education centres connected to a high speed connection though this shouldn’t be a problem, but it might for those still waiting for home broadband to become a reality.

Halkett sees the system filling in the gaps in specialist teaching areas, such as hiring in a top biologist, but it could also be used to teach whole courses.

He said Boxmind is close to signing a number of major deals with universities.

Among the academics signed up for the virtual lectures are Richard Dawkins, author of The Seflish Gene, and Susan Greenfield, presenter of the BBC’s recent TV series Brain Story.