Dr Qian Tang, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for education, highlighted the benefits of online learning and MOOCs.

He said: “MOOCs are excellent for promoting lifelong learning – courses offered free to countless people offer access to higher education to those who can’t afford formal education and are disadvantaged; this is democratisation of higher education.”

In addition, MOOCs reduced the disconnect between skills and aptitudes of most university graduates and the needs of industry in many developing countries, he said. There was high use among adults, especially women, so greater gender equality in areas where women were under-represented.

Tang recognised it might be too costly for higher education institutions in some countries to offer high-quality content, but MOOCs could help deal with this challenge.