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Edtech platform FutureLearn looking for outside investment

The Open University, which is hailed in the UK as the “pioneer” of distance learning, is looking for investment from outside sources for its online platform, FutureLearn.

The company confirmed it is seeking investment advice, but would not comment on the goal amount. Photo: Unsplash

OU is understood to be putting an extra £10m into its subsidiary

Following reports in the British financial press, the company has confirmed that is is looking for “new investment partners” to aid its growth into the degree market and other aspects of online international education.

“FutureLearn is planning a significant expansion of its operations”

According to reports, FutureLearn is seeking £40m from both its existing partners and new investors. The firm would not confirm or deny if the amount cited was accurate, but FutureLearn did confirm to The PIE News that IBIS Capital has been appointed by the company to “assist in the review of potential new investment partners for FutureLearn”.

Despite claiming over 8 million registered users, and £8.2m reported as the current revenues, FutureLearn is seen by some to be losing out to competitors in the US, such as Coursera and 2U.

However, as CEO Simon Nelson pointed out to The PIE earlier in 2018, the British firm is younger, but is hoping a dual approach of short courses and degree-level online education can make up the gap.

Nelson also pointed out that FutureLearn’s small size made it much more effective at reacting to market changes. The decision to run the digital arm of the Open University as a separate organisation was taken for these benefits, even if it meant forfeiting the brand recognition that the OU would have given in competition with transatlantic rivals.

“The feeling was it would be faster, simpler, and potentially it would bring fresh ideas if it were run as a startup,” Nelson said.

“There is no way degrees are going to crowd-out MOOCs”

A key goal for the start-up modelled-firm has been traditional universities, from around the globe, partnering with the platform to reach a far wider audience than traditional mobile education can attain.

This has led to graduate courses from Coventry University, Deakin University and many more being made available on the platform.

It is understood that this route, towards further degree programs, is being pursued further with more partners and wider degree-level options hoped to boost the site’s attractiveness to both students and institutional partners.

Despite this pursuit and investment, Nelson and FutureLearn have been keen to point out that this new development won’t entirely usurp ‘traditional’ modes of digital education, like MOOCs… at least not yet.

“There is no way degrees are going to crowd-out MOOCs, short courses, etc. They’re going to operate on a continuum,” he said.

A spokesperson said this expansion, the reason for the search for capital, would be “significant”.

“In light of the strong demand from both learners and institutional partners, FutureLearn is planning a significant expansion of its operations,” they said.

Parent institution, the OU, is understood to be putting an extra £10m into its subsidiary company.

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