OpenCourseWare makes available all MIT’s courses online for free to anyone in the world.

“It absolutely wouldn’t, couldn’t, have happened without Chuck Vest’s leadership,” says Anne Margulies, executive director of MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW). “He led the way in communicating the vision and got everyone behind it.”

MIT OCW was the idea of a faculty committee established in 1999 to study how MIT should position itself in the Internet age. The group concluded that MIT give away its course materials — a move congruent with MIT’s mission to advance education and serve society and congruent with its values of excellence, innovation, and leadership.

Vest loved the idea. He believed that MIT OCW would serve to empower and democratize the world and would also serve as a model to inspire other universities to share information, creating a worldwide web of knowledge to benefit humankind.

“Education progresses best when knowledge is shared openly and freely,” Margulies says. “Making information available only to those who can afford to pay for it hinders educational advancement.” Seven hundred courses are now online, and another 1300 will soon be posted. Since MIT OCW began in 2001, people from 215 countries have visited the Web site, and 11,000 visit each day. Users say it’s invaluable.

One recently wrote that when he read MIT offered its courses for free, “I was as dumbfounded as if I had just read that my local BMW dealer was giving away cars for free. What a profoundly generous thing MIT has done.”

Margulies says: “It’s easy to imagine another president saying, ‘Thanks for the good idea, but it’s just too hard to do.’ But Chuck Vest is a big thinker, who works very hard at doing the right thing for the right reasons.

“People tell us every day that MIT OCW is changing their lives.”