A company founded by a former Study Group executive has won a contract from London School of Economics (LSE) to develop a range of online and blended university programmes fit for the coronavirus era.

Skilled Education, founded by Rajay Naik, who departed his role of chief commercial officer at pathway provider Study Group in March, builds online courses on behalf of universities and companies, within existing digital platforms. This, Skilled Education says, avoids “the cost and distraction of new infrastructure”, marking a “significant shift” away from traditional arrangements, under which “providers have typically sought to tie universities into complex, long-term” contracts.

The firm has moved to capitalise on rising demand for online higher education spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to prevent in-person instruction at large numbers of universities in the UK and worldwide.

Commenting on LSE’s partnership with Skilled Education, professor Dilly Fung, pro-director for education, said: “Covid-19 may have changed the way we have to deliver our teaching and learning, but it has not dented our determination to ensure that our students continue to enjoy an inspirational and supportive learning environment. 

“We are delighted to partner with Skilled Education to develop a range of undergraduate and postgraduate trailblazer courses, which will enable us to develop our online provision and ensure that students can increasingly access the highest-quality education, wherever they may be.”

Skilled Education chief executive Naik, who earlier in his career was director of the Open University, and founded and led Keypath Education Europe as its chief executive, said the pandemic has accelerated a shift towards online learning that was already underway.

“Universities have been delivering online offerings for over a decade – initially through free short courses and increasingly full degrees, particularly at the postgraduate level,” he said. “It is vital to ensure an exceptional student experience, whether on-campus, blended or entirely online – particularly given that the boundaries between modes of study will become increasingly blurred.”

The launch of Skilled Education marks a return to the online education sector for Naik, who left Study Group shortly after it acquired online learning platform developer Insendi, whose leader this publication interviewed in August

In founding Skilled Education, Naik took cues from the US, where “the online enablement market has evolved significantly and there are a range of responsive, flexible operators that do not currently exist outside that market”, he told EducationInvestor Global

“Vice-chancellors and corporate chief executives in the UK were consistently telling me that they required agile, collaborative and high-quality partners that did not require them to sign up to eight-year contracts or a bundled range of services as happens with traditional OPM [online programme management] providers,” he added. “The first-generation model requires innovation.”

Skilled Education’s contracts have been as short as four months, Naik explained, though the firm has “several multi-year deals close to completion” that will be announced in due course.

“What we’re experiencing is the next chapter in the online learning story,” he said, “which started with MOOCs [massive open online courses], then moved to OPM, and, now, the third phase: fully-flexible online enabling.” 

Date published: 14 October 2020

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