Mapping University Partnerships

A global view of OPMs, MOOCs and Bootcamps and the Academic PPP Landscape.

Education Intelligence Unit

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March 17, 2021

University partnerships with Online Program Managers, Bootcamp and MOOC providers are growing at a record rate to support institutional objectives for online delivery, enrolment growth and expansion into new markets.

The third webinar in our Higher Education Digital Transformation series offered a snapshot of the global ‘state of play’ in academic public-private-partnerships. We heard insights about how these models are growing and evolving, and what scenarios might be next. The webinar is part of a 2021 HolonIQ series exploring new models, technologies and partnerships emerging in Higher Education.

Attendees were actively involved in chat and questions, especially regarding online program expansion, skills training and bootcamps. Over 90% indicated in our first poll that these were areas where they saw most interest or strongest growth in public-private partnerships in higher education.

Partnerships and the Learner Lifecycle.

University partnerships, especially OPMs, can stretch across the whole learner lifecycle in the Higher Education Digital Capability Framework, from product strategy to lifelong learning. Very large OPMs can have broad capabilities across all domains, whilst specialist OPMs may offer services in a specific industry, geography or program type.

Looking more closely, ‘Demand and Discovery’ (DD) highlights the traditional strengths of OPMs in digital recruitment, especially for high value, high stakes programs; ‘Learning Design’ (LD) has been a key area for OPMs in designing digital curriculum and learning, whilst ‘Learner Experience’ (LX) takes us into OPM learner support and engagement, MOOC platforms and Bootcamp delivery models. Finally, the ‘Work & Lifelong Learning’ Dimension shows deep partnerships developing with industry focussing on employability, upskilling and hiring relationships across various models.

When asked for which part of the lifecycle they saw the greatest benefit from public-private partnerships, 60% of attendees selected Work & Lifelong Learning, compared to just 19% Demand and Discovery, 11% Learner Experience and 9% Learning Design.

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Buy, build or partner?

Wherever you focus in the learner lifecycle, there are multiple strategic considerations in choosing the right approach for a higher education institution. Deciding whether to buy, build or partner for digital services and solutions may be influenced broadly by current digital capabilities and attitudes to risk, but also by any number of questions around issues such as process, speed, costs, culture, talent and contracts.

When asked about the top reasons HE institutions would partner with a private company, top poll answers included speed to market (33%), unique competencies (28%) and superior service to in-house alternatives (17%). A follow-up poll about top concerns demonstrated the flipside to these potential benefits, with 43% indicating ‘control’ as a major concern in public-private partnerships, followed by IP/competency ownership (23%) and cost (22%).

Segmenting Academic PPPs.

The global landscape of public-private partnerships comprises many grey areas, making segmentation complex as different players enter the market, grow and change. Large OPMs can have broad capabilities and experience across a diverse portfolio, with strong partnerships established over extensive timeframes. Specialist OPMs may focus on a particular industry, region or activity, whilst the MOOC-as-OPM tackles degree and credential programs. More on the OPX Landscape.

Uni partnership growth is strong and expanding.

Historically, public universities have led the growth of Academic PPPs, growing steadily in number over the past five years. 2020 saw a significant jump in partnerships between private Not-for-Profit universities and OPMs, Bootcamps and Pathways providers as a greater number of these institutions acted on the immediate need for digital services and delivery.

Overall, mega-institutions and small universities are taking on more Academic PPP’s than their middle-sized peers, turning their attention especially to Bootcamp partnerships during 2020. Small institutions particularly established more than four times the number of Bootcamp partnerships in 2020 as in the previous year.

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Four OPX Scenarios for the future of partnerships.

The OPX market landscape continues to evolve as existing models adapt to market needs and adjacent service providers take on OPX-like services. Formal Higher Education is a regulated market and policy-makers also influence market dynamics along with significant external events such as COVID-19, which has disrupted normal market evolution. HolonIQ has identified four possible scenarios based on the extent of consolidation or fragmentation and levels of insourcing versus outsourcing.

During the webinar, participants predicted that the outsourced options of ‘OPX Unbundling’ (48%) and ‘OPX Oligopoly’ (31%) could become dominant scenarios for micro and alternative credentials, with a trend towards consolidation rather than fragmentation. Only 4% thought universities might build their own in-house capabilities with OPX-like services and staff.

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What's Next?

The Higher Education Digital Transformation Webinar Series continues with an overview of the growth and evolution of the MOOC-model and the role it has yet to play in the evolving post-secondary education and adult up-skilling market.

Watch previous webinars.

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