Harvard and MIT participate in $ 800 million deal to promote access to online education

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Education technology company 2U Inc., which manages graduate programs for dozens of top universities, purchases online course provider edX, a non-profit organization founded by the University Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for $ 800 million.

The deal brings together two major players in online education as universities around the world engage more aggressively in digital offerings. Many schools were quick to switch online courses when the pandemic shut down campuses last year, and now they are expected to build on and tweak the curricula.

Proceeds from the sale will go to a nonprofit, run by Harvard and MIT, which the schools say will focus on reducing inequalities in access to education. It will maintain the open access course platform built by edX, seek out e-learning and hybrid learning models, and strive to minimize the digital divide that still poses a barrier for many young students and adults, said schools.

“These are the first steps in the digital transformation of education,” said 2U CEO Chip Paucek, adding that he anticipated a time when “online education would be normalized as, simply, education.” .

EdX was founded by Harvard and MIT in 2012, with the goal of democratizing elite education with free courses, taught by top professors, available to students around the world. Over time, he added certificates of completion, available for a fee, and course sequences that, stacked together, could lead to degrees and ultimately a diploma. It has also started providing corporate training on topics such as entrepreneurship and cybersecurity.

EdX has more than 160 university partners, with more than 2,000 courses in areas such as machine learning, negotiations and computer programming.

It will operate as a public interest entity within 2U, which has stated that it is committed to maintaining free access for those who simply wish to audit courses and not obtain credentials, as well. than providing stackable credentials and low cost degrees.

2U manages the nuts and bolts of online education, such as marketing to prospective students and managing the web platform, for approximately 80 partner schools, including Georgetown University and University of Southern California . Schools use their faculties and control admissions and accreditation decisions.

In recent years, 2U has also expanded to online boot camps and tech training programs. The company has forecast $ 940 million in revenue this year.

Massive, open online courses known as MOOCs never really revolutionized higher education to the point of replacing traditional college degrees, as some of the early proponents predicted. Universities have encouraged faculty to register and teach the free courses, but have generally not given academic credit to their own students for taking them.

But MOOCs like those run on edX’s platform have shaken the university in other ways, allowing schools like the Georgia Institute of Technology to offer extremely cheap degrees without cannibalizing demand for their programs on the Internet. the campus.

The deal is expected to close later this year, pending regulatory approval.

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