What does the UK Governments new Industrial Strategy for education mean for the e-learning and the edtech sector.

The 29th July 2013 saw the launch of the UK’s Industrial Strategy for Education, aimed at bringing Industry and Government together in partnership to address the massive global growth opportunity that is the education market and thereby support growth and prosperity in the UK.

This is a wide ranging Industrial Strategy looking at the importance of the education market as a whole and focuses very heavily on Higher Education and much less so on the corporate/workplace learning market.

The report begins with the words of David Willets: “There are few sectors of the UK economy with the capacity to grow and generate export earnings as impressive as education,” and it is the overwhelming focus on education to the almost total exclusion of the corporate and workplace learning and training market that is slightly disappointing.

There is little doubt in our minds that the UK also excels in training and e-learning for the corporate workplace.

Non- the- less this policy position is a significant development for the education sector, and the recognition and profile given to the edtech sector is most welcome.

However, it is not until the section titled “Trans National Education” TNE do we see the paper really addressing the role for educational technologies in making this strategy happen!

Why is this: well much of the strategy is devoted to HE and the importance of students studying in the UK: Quite simply because 75% of the education income generated by the UK education sector comes from students studying in the UK. Interestingly figures in the supporting document indicate just over 500,000 students are registered overseas to study with UK HEIs, and apparently only 115,000 are using some form of distance learning. It is no wonder the policy makers are concerned with the arrival of MOOCs on the education market, but the potential for this market is massive.

So what are the components of this strategy we in the edtech and e-learning world should we be most interested in?

MOOCs

MOOCs are big theme in this strategy and appear to have captured government imagination. It appears policy makers fear that the UK will suck in a generation of US MOOCs into the HE market, rather like the UK sucked in a large number of US VLEs into HE in the late 1990s.

There is no doubt that the UK has been left behind in the MOOC movement, though the Open Universities FutureLearn MOOC is moving forward. There is still however lots of doubt (and it is reflected in this policy) as to how MOOCs will evolve and develop.

There is no doubt that the education market is globalising and is an area of huge potential for the developed world providing education to the developing world, and it will not be possible for the UK or any of its competitors to service this market with “Bricks and Mortar” solutions alone, and this strategy is correct to recognise this challenge. In our view MOOCs are only one part of the answer and by no means the only answer.

World Leader

The strategy both in its introduction and subsequently claims that the UK is a world leader in Education Technology, stating in the Executive Summary: “UK companies are among the most innovative in the development of digital learning resources in schools and colleges, and we must maintain an environment that supports such innovation.”

It is difficult to disagree with this statement even though we missed MOOCs (but let’s not be churlish here), but disappointing to note that again the UK’s position in e-learning and learning technologies in the workplace is not appreciated or acknowledged.

The strategy also goes on to admit that the UK education technology sector faces some real challenges and requires additional support if it is to deliver its full growth potential, and offers some very useful policy interventions to support the edtech industry.

The UK is certainly a potential leader in English Language education and this is a major feature in this strategy.

Policies:

Promotion of the UK Education sector

The UK government and its agencies such as UKTI and the British Council will continue to support activity in the new overseas markets and further raise profile. An on-line training programme for Education Agents is promised. This is to be welcomed as many small companies struggle to expand overseas.    

Collaboration and Coordination

Companies and academic institutions will be encouraged to collaborate both in market and in Research and Development with edtech vendors. Again naturally this is to be welcomed.

“The Government will establish a new International Education Council to act as a champion for this strategy and the international education sector. It will ensure effective communication and engagement with all parts of the sector.”  Welcome, but it is to be hoped that there is room for small companies and edtech companies alongside the larger organisations and a strong UK bias in membership is maintained.

Enterprise support

A new Enterprise support regime is promised for Autumn 2013. Good

MOOCs and other opportunities

The Open University Futurelearn MOOC development programme is given considerable significance as a platform for developing the sector, and with the British Library, British Museum, British Council and the 21 Universities onboard it is to be hoped this has the potential in the market. No mention of a role for the BBC though!

So will MOOCs provide opportunities for the edtech and e-learning vendors….well quite possibly so for those with innovative products and services that could plug into these new eco-systems. There still may be room for new MOOC platforms to emerge with differing market positions, and we have already seen the idea of MOOAs – floated – the A being for Administration.

The strategy also recognises the importance of analytics, and again with the vast amount of data (big data) there is no doubt that analytics will be important. The document mentions Personalised Learning and Haptic technology (touch technology) but no mention of Adaptive Learning which is hot (and not a fad) at present.

Innovation, Commercialisation and a competition!

The TSB – Technology Strategy Board is to play a more active role in the sector with more targeted interventions to support both innovation and commercialisation. A further element will be a new Small Business Research Initiative competition for educational technology with a budget of £1 million.

Stimulating domestic demand by innovating the Skills System with Education Technology

Perhaps the most imaginative and interesting potential policy development is based on the view of the Skills Minister that by stimulating the use of edtech in the UK domestic skills market the consequence will be that the UK supply base will be further strengthened and new innovation will flow with yet further overseas potential.

This policy is still developing, and it is noted that the focus for skills development will further develop around the “proposed new employer ownership fund, which builds on the two rounds of Employer Ownership Pilot projects, could provide an opportunity for Government to co-invest in projects to deliver technology use at scale.”

So learning in the workplace has not been forgotten and could get a very significant domestic boost with employers playing a major role, and if this policy can bring the benefits of e-learning to the Small and Medium Enterprise sector it will deliver a much needed stimulus toward training in these organisations, a real spurt of growth to the UKs e-learning sector and a new platform to build a successful international education and training offer in Vocational education and training, a market many times bigger than HE and one that is very badly served at this moment.