China was likely to become one of the world's biggest e-learning markets within three years, according to Interactive University (IU) chief executive Roy Leitch. On the sidelines of the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Shanghai, Mr Leitch said the university, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, had just signed agreements with five mainland colleges Last month, the IU signed agreements with colleges in Nanjing, Shanghai, Beijing, Weifang and Harbin to jointly offer courses in business and management, information technology, life sciences and health sciences. As a result of the agreements, China could overtake Malaysia as the country with the largest number of IU students. Chinese already account for the largest group of foreign students at universities in Scotland, where between 10,000 to 15,000 students each spend up to ?15,000 (HK$187,000) a year. 'Universities are constrained by space in the number of foreign students they can take. Through the IU, the cost is much lower and the undergraduate can stay at home. We try to make our content as generic as possible. Subjects like history and sociology are more culture-specific,' Mr Leitch said. He said China was no different from other countries in exercising control over its educational system. 'Universities here are more business-like than some of those elsewhere and it is easier to get an agreement with them.' IU has 80,000 students and 40 partners in 22 countries, each paying ?1,000 to ?2,000 for courses. It divides the fees 50-50 with local universities and colleges, for which it provides materials to teachers and marks the exams. 'It combines international standard education and local context and is not virtual or distance learning,' Mr Leitch said. 'We support but do not replace the teacher. We professionalise the content, allowing more time for the teachers. A student is educated in his own country and receives an internationally recognised degree.'