Government sees technology as key to generating cash from education in UK

Technology will play a key part in generating further income for Britain from the international education sector, according to a government report.


Technology will play a key part in generating further income for Britain from the international education sector, according to a government report.

The "International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity" report says "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".

The UK already hosts the annual British Educational Training and Technology (BETT) exhibition, says the report, "by far the largest and best attended educational technology event in the world", with "a reputation for showcasing cutting edge technology drawing on a large international audience"

The report says the government recognises education technology firms can face challenges accessing finance, as well as other support and that "it is committed to making it easier for small- and medium-sized businesses to access the right support".

UK Export Finance, the UK’s government-backed export credit agency, can offer help to exporters and investors, typically in the form of insurance and guarantees, says the report.

The report also points to the recent development of "Massive Open Online Courses" (MOOCs) in higher education, which "have raised the prospect that new technology could fundamentally change how education is delivered".

"At present the main players are based in the US, but their potential reach is truly global. Education is becoming a genuinely multinational sector, attracting more and more investors interested in large scale global expansion," the report says.

What the report doesn't address however is the cost model for access to MOOCs. MOOCs using cloud technology can give access to students from around the world to some of the best courses in the world, but at what price?

If someone is paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend Harvard, why should someone in London be able to access the same course materials for relative peanuts? An accepted market cost model for MOOCs has not yet been established in the US yet, but the likes of Oxford or Cambridge will have to address similar questions about the cost of remote course access here.

The government says established UK education providers need to be "flexible, entrepreneurial and willing to form partnerships, which may cross old public-private boundaries".

The report says the Open University, together with 21 other leading UK universities, the British Library, British Museum and British Council, will pioneer FutureLearn – the first UK MOOC platform.

FutureLearn has already partnered with Trinity (Dublin) and Monash (Australia), while Edinburgh runs MOOCs on the US Coursera platform.

The government says it will work with the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and other partners to "develop a more targeted support programme for educational technology innovation and its commercialisation". This will include a call for innovators to come forward with their designs to exploit modern educational technology, and a new "Small Business Research Initiative competition".

An advisory group with technology experts from the sector and industry will also provide guidance to the skills minister on how technology can be used to improve and enhance learning across the skills sector.

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