Last year’s sale of the non-profit online course platform edX has left both parties short on value, with buyer 2U still hunting for paying customers, and vendors Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) still mulling how the proceeds will boost remote teaching.
Scientists at the two universities created edX in 2012 as a means of making courses freely available on the internet, and for giving other institutions the software to create similar platforms. 2U, founded in 2008, is a private company that creates online courses for universities. It bought most of edX in July 2021 for $800 million (Rs.6,400 crore) in the hope that a fraction of its fee-free learners might find enough value to start paying for it.
But 2U’s stock price has dropped nearly 70 percent this year, provoking extensive lay-offs and glum assessments by industry analysts who argue that the company was mistaken in betting so heavily on the prospect of profitably converting edX students. “The primary focus of the non-profit has been CEO search,” acknowledges Catie Smith, interim chief operating officer of the year-old organisation, which Harvard and MIT have named the Centre for Reimagining Learning, or tCRIL. As for how it will use the online course sharing software it has retained, tCRIL is still “laying the ground work towards a strategy” for accomplishing that.
The transaction has drawn criticism from many in higher education who argue that edX had a founding mission to serve disadvantaged students around the world, and that the two elite universities have abandoned that commitment by selling edX to a private company charging high fees.
But 2U is not alone in its struggles. Coursera — the online education platform created in 2012 by two Stanford University computer science professors as a rival to edX — announced its own sweeping payoffs in November. Coursera’s market value has fallen by nearly three-quarters from highs in early 2021.