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Open University partners with online learning provider SEEK Group in £50m deal

A £50million deal thought to be the largest ever private-sector EdTech investment in Europe will see the Open University partner with international online learning provider SEEK Group.

SEEK Group (ASX: SEK) will make the investment to become a joint, 50% owner of The Open University’s FutureLearn social learning platform, it was announced today.

The Open University launched FutureLearn, which is based in London, in December 2012 with a dozen UK university partners to test opportunities offered by digital learning and massive open online courses (known as MOOCs). Rapid growth means that FutureLearn now has over nine million learners.

The platform offers short online courses right through to postgraduate diplomas and certificates and fully online degrees, all designed around social learning. Open University has teamed up with SEEK in a £50m edtech deal

FutureLearn partners with over a quarter of the world’s top universities, as well as organisations such as Accenture, the British Council, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Raspberry Pi and Health Education England (NHS).

Welcoming the announcement, The Open University’s Vice Chancellor Mary Kellett said: “Our new partnership is a fantastic opportunity to change more lives around the globe through flexible lifelong learning. The Open University is rightly known for pioneering new approaches to education and for our academic excellence. Today’s announcement shows this is as true today as when we started fifty years ago. It represents one of the most exciting educational prospects in modern times.

“Our partnership with SEEK and the investment in FutureLearn will take our unique mission to make education open for all into new parts of the world. Education improves lives, communities and economies and is a truly global product, with no tariffs on ideas.”

The new partnership with SEEK will have contractual arrangements in place to protect the University’s academic independence, teaching methods and curriculum.

The SEEK Group is a market leader in the creation and management of online education and employment businesses. SEEK are well-established across Australia, New Zealand, China, South East Asia, Brazil and Mexico.

Commenting on the investment, SEEK Co-Founder and CEO Andrew Bassat said: “This investment follows the same logic applied to IDP and Online Education Services ‘OES’ in that we like to invest in disruptive business models that provide world class student education outcomes.

“Technology is increasing the accessibility of quality education and can help millions of people up-skill and re-skill to adapt to rapidly changing labour markets. We see FutureLearn as a key enabler for education at scale.

“FutureLearn’s reputation is strong and it has attracted leading education providers onto its platform. We are excited to come on as a partner with The Open University.”

FutureLearn is involved in UK government-backed initiatives to address skills gaps including The Institute of Coding and the National Centre for Computing Education. It currently has six university partners offering full, online degrees on the platform, and has most recently launched Unlimited, a new business model allowing learners access to most courses for a one-off annual payment.

Commenting on the investment FutureLearn CEO Simon Nelson said: “The Open University’s vision and investment, the hard work of our staff and support of our partners, has seen FutureLearn grow rapidly in the past six years. The investment announced today will enable us to unlock FutureLearn’s true potential and extend our global reach and impact.

“This investment allows us to focus on developing more great courses and qualifications that both learners and employers will value. This includes building a portfolio of micro-credentials and broadening our range of flexible, fully online degrees and being able to enhance support for our growing number of international partners to empower them to build credible digital strategies, and in doing so, transform access to education.”

FutureLearn has been advised by IBIS Capital, a specialist investment and corporate finance advisory group focused on the global media, education and health sectors, and Kemp Little, a leading technology-focused law firm. The Open University was advised by Farrer & Co, the London-based independent law firm. SEEK Group was advised by O’Melveny & Myers, an international law firm.

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