The University of Exeter has ditched its former partner Pearson for a new 10-year partnership with US-based ed-tech provider Keypath Education with whom it is launching online Masters degrees to UK and international students in September this year.
Pearson originally partnered with Exeter university in October 2015, intending to launch online post-graduate degrees in a variety of subjects in September 2016. However, the agreement was halted late 2015. Neither Pearson or Exeter university have given any reason for why their agreement ended, but the institution subsequently started a formal tender exercise in February 2016, resulting in Keypath being awarded the partnership in November 2016.
A University of Exeter spokesperson declined to comment on the reason for the U-turn: “We cannot comment on the specifics of our individual partnerships, however our relationship with Pearson remains as strong as ever and we are proud and committed to working together in the years to come on a range of projects. This includes looking at progression routes into higher education and high-skilled employment for those with BTEC qualifications. The university is also delighted to be working with Keypath to deliver these new online courses for Masters students from this September.”
A Pearson spokesperson also refused to comment directly on the termination of its original contract with Exeter, but said it maintains "a strong relationship" with the university "forged over many years".
The university's collaboration with new partner Keypath will see the creation of online MSc programmes in Finance & Management, International Business, and Marketing in September. The online courses will be provided by the University of Exeter’s Business School, accredited by EQUIS, an international system of quality assessment, improvement and accreditation of Higher Education institutions in management and business administration. The courses, open to UK students wanting to work, earn and learn online without physically attending university, will be available for enrolment from September 2017 and will cost £18,000 for both UK and international students. Additional programmes will follow in the New Year.
The University of Exeter will maintain academic autonomy, responsible for providing the content and the teaching for all courses, while Keypath Education, which already works with other universities in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, will concentrate on marketing the courses to students and on delivering the programmes. It is tasked with enhancing the university’s front-end service and in supporting students throughout the duration of the typically two-year part-time degrees.
Professor Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Exeter, said: “As our world becomes increasingly digital and international, we are embracing technology enhanced learning to deliver an internationally excellent education, which gives our talented students the ability to go on to make a difference in the world. Our online Masters students will have access to everything that makes our on-campus degrees internationally recognised for excellence, but in a flexible way that compliments their work and family commitments. This is an incredibly exciting moment for the University of Exeter and the UK Higher Education sector.
“Keypath Education has already proven to be an impressive partner and we are looking forward to collaborating with them to develop and deliver exceptional online programmes that bring University of Exeter education and student experience to learners wherever they are.”
The University of Exeter is Keypath Education's first Russell Group partner. Rajay Naik, c.e.o. of Keypath Education (Europe), commented: “The University of Exeter will be one of the highest ranked universities in the world to join the competitive international market for online higher education. We are designing exceptional and immersive online programmes that bring the university’s exceptional student experience to learners wherever they are. We are seeing enormous and growing demand from students across the world looking to access the world’s best institutions without having to move home, leave their job or sacrifice their career. The expansion of online learning is accelerating social mobility internationally, increasing our nation’s exports and keeping our world-leading Higher Education sector at the vanguard of the world.”
The university's new offer of online degrees is said to be part of the "fast-changing HE landscape"; Naik further told The Bookseller the company anticipates "a major inflexion point" in the number of UK universities launching online degrees over the next year and, as such, that enabler companies would double, or even treble, in the next year and a half. However, he said there is room in the market for "plenty of companies".
"There is phenomenal amount of ambition from universities right now," he said. "I think there is enormous demand from British univerisities to go online. There is an obligation and a responsibility for enabler companies to perform exceptionally well, whether that's ourselves or others in the market. I'm frankly determined to deliver what we do exceptionally well because the world is watching Britain and what we are doing online at the moment. We need to do this, for our students, for our universities, and for our economy. I think there will be more than enough demand from universities for plenty of companies in this field."
The announcement is an example of how universities are looking to diversify to protect and increase their revenues from overseas students, which have declined in recent years and are likely to be further impacted by Brexit. Naik commented: "Brexit, immigration controls, the need to diversify our balance sheets, the need to deliver programmes for students who couldn't otherwise come to the UK or afford to come to the UK or live on campus, all of those factors mean it's more important than ever before to deliver online learning. There are a whole range of factors currently shaping the ambition of the sector to go online. All of those are important."
"Education is moving online, there's no doubt about it. Increasingly publishers will move from content to services," he added.
Jo Johnson MP, Higher Education Minister, agreed on the importance of online education: “It is essential that courses are flexible and catered to fit around differing work and life demands," he said. "That is why it is fantastic to see partnerships such as the one between the University of Exeter and Keypath Education to deliver online degrees which enable students to work, earn and learn."
The University of Exeter's former partner Pearson's c.e.o., John Fallon, previously said online programme management (OPM) represented the company's "most exciting long-term opportunity". The education giant counts more than 45 partnerships spanning three continents, serving over 70,000 students worldwide. In the UK it has partnered with Kings College, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Leeds.
Keypath meanwhile has 16 university partnerships to produce postgraduate degrees internationally. It has three partnerships in the UK including Exeter, Coventry and a partnership with "another highly ranked UK university" to be revealed in the coming weeks.
A Pearson spokesperson commented of Exeter's switch to Keypath: "Pearson and Exeter have a strong relationship, forged over many years and the relationship is continuing to grow as we work together in a number of ways. This includes collaboration ensuring that the Pearson qualification BTEC continues to grow as an important progression route into HE and employment."