Edtech has come of age.
And the UK is keen to position itself as a hub for cutting-edge learning technologies, from tutoring to apps and from Moocs to digital degrees.
Edtech is already one of the UK’s most exciting and fastest-growing sectors, accounting for 4% of all digital companies, the same as fintech, according to the Tech Nation Report 2015
, with London at its core.
Ian Fordham, CEO of EdTech UK
, said earlier this year that there are now over 1,000 edtech start-ups across the UK with 200 of those based in London.
Some of the world’s biggest publishers and training providers have their HQs or UK bases in the region’s capital, such as Pearson and Kaplan.
Global edtech companies such as Blippar, Knewton and Mendeley also have their European HQs in the city.
And despite worries over the impact of Brexit on the nation’s tech scene, educationalist say UK edtech is poised to continue to thrive.
“We see the edtech market as incredibly buoyant, and if anything, Brexit is a driver for universities to focus on strengthening their digital propositions,” says Simon Nelson, chief executive of online learning platform FutureLearn
At the heart of UK edtech are its universities, such as University of Cambridge or Imperial College London, which are considered to be among the best on the planet. The University of Oxford this year became the first UK university to top the global league.
“The UK has a good legacy around education — a strong research base, academic excellence and track record of delivering good quality programs,” says Tony Sheehan, associate dean for digital learning at London Business School (LBS).
And it’s not just higher education that has its finger on the pulse of edtech. UK schools spend some £900 million
each year on educational technology.
Michael Forshaw is the founder and managing director of Innovate My School
, a community-driven website that keeps teachers informed about the latest ideas and trends in education.
He says that since the UK government announced that schools must deliver a computing curriculum, the use of technology in primary and secondary school classrooms is increasing year on year.
Michael says UK schools are using robotics pioneered by the likes of Primo Toys, Pi-Top, and CB Information Systems to teach STEM subjects.
He adds that cutting-edge learning tech is also being deployed to support the teaching of coding through hundreds of free or low-cost providers, like Digital Schoolhouse or Code Club.
And while edtech is growing domestically, LBS’ Tony believes the UK can be a leading exporter to schools and universities overseas, particularly now as the GPB exchange rates will favour UK exporters.
The UK education exports industry is worth £17.5 billion
a year and the government is looking to increase this to £30 billion by 2020, according to London & Partners, the promotional body.
Online learning websites in particular are taking UK university content and dispersing it to a global audience via the web, through Moocs and other digital courses.
“The scope for tech to open up new international markets is very exciting,” says LBS’ Tony.
More than 75% of the five million learners on FutureLearn are based outside of the UK, says its CEO Simon, representing more than 190 countries and territories around the world. Additionally, half of the 70 top universities hosting content through the FutureLearn platform are based abroad, he says.
Meanwhile, UK edtech has had particular success exporting literacy expertise overseas, says Innovate My School’s Michael, led by companies like Pobble and Giglets.
Mike Feerick, CEO and founder of online learning company ALISON
, adds that English language courses are particularly in-demand internationally.
He says: “Much of the world is seeking to learn more online via English. A distinct advantage of UK and Irish free learning platforms is that fact that they are English language focused.” ALISON has more than two million English language students from across the globe.
While opportunities for UK edtech to export are growing, companies have so far been slow to capitalize on them, argues Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet, co-founder of EdTechxEurope
and partner at IBIS Capital, an investment group focused on education.
He says: “British edtech is still too focused on its domestic market, which is hyper competitive and underfunded.”
However, with top universities, tech companies and government backing, Benjamin adds that it remains “a fertile ecosystem and a fantastic launch pad for edtech start-ups”.