The dean of digital learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has resigned as a staff revolt against the sale of non-profit online course platform edX to for-profit competitor 2U grows. Krishna Rajagopal, who has announced his departure, told colleagues that he had “serious continuing reservations about the path forward for edX that MIT has announced”. Meanwhile, many of his colleagues have vowed to create a new non-profit alternative platform to distribute their courses online.
MIT created edX with Harvard University and developed it to have 160 partner institutions serving nearly 40 million students — many of them overseas — only to acknowledge that the idea of providing elite-level courses at no charge would struggle for financial sustainability.
But selling the platform to 2U for $800 million (Rs.5,942 crore) was blasted by several MIT faculty as a betrayal by the institution’s president L. Rafael Reif. “This will seed the deplorable, reprehensible industry of for-profit education in the United States,” says Susan Silbey, MIT professor of sociology and management.
Others who declared their distress over the sale — and promised to leave edX for the planned faculty-organised alternative — include Esther Duflo, MIT’s Nobel prize-winning professor of poverty alleviation and development economics. Prof Prof. Duflo says the free distribution of MIT courses over edX had helped many students abroad in recent years — including some who later took regular MIT classes — and that such work did not now appear “compatible with” edX’s apparent mission under the control of 2U.
Christopher Paucek, chief executive and co-founder of 2U, says he has seen an “overwhelmingly positive response” from edX and 2U partners. 2U, which will benefit from the creation of a combined entity with access to more than 50 million students worldwide, has committed to “guaranteeing affordability” through the use of free courses.
Prof. Rajagopal, who will remain professor of physics at MIT, declined to comment. However, in an email sent to colleagues on the day the sale was announced, he says: “There is… broad agreement on the positive and negative aspects of this particular deal with 2U. However, when I add up the pros and cons, I have serious continuing reservations about the path forward for edX that MIT has announced.”
Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education