More than 20 universities have partnered to launch a series of free, online courses in the UK that can be accessed on mobile, as well as desktop, devices.

Launched today, an initiative called FutureLearn is being delivered by a private company owned by distance learning experts Open University. Its partners include more than 20 UK and international universities and institutions like the British Council, the British Library and the British Museum.

The project marks the UK entering the global market in massive open online courses - commonly known as Moocs. They are designed to be high-quality courses with direct input from the universities involved.

For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began offering a free, undergraduate-level circuits and electronics course online, to virtual learners around the world in 2012.

In the same year, the university also joined with Harvard Univeresity to back and fund an online education organisation, edX, that uses open-source technology to offer free classes over the internet.FutureLearn is in beta and the courses that will run this year are all pilots. Courses available currently include a seven week course from the University of Reading on how to build your first mobile game using Java programming, an introduction to the science behind cancer from the University of Bath and a course on web science from the University of Southampton. More courses will be added over the coming months.

The length of the courses vary, from two to 10 weeks long. The majority will be six to 10 weeks long.

Students will be able to learn by watching videos, listening to audio and reading articles. They will be able to discuss topics with each other online, and educators will be on hand to offer guidance and answer questions.

There will be no formal qualification or certification awarded at the end of the courses in the current format of FutureLearn. However, it is piloting features that will let students take exams or buy statements of accomplishment.

Other universities taking part in the initiative include Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Loughborough and Trinity College Dublin. Monash University in Australia is also a partner.