UK’s Proversity leads digital university challenge to out-of-step academia

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One of the major issues facing the modern economy is the value of education. American students are feeling the crunch more than other nationalities with the hyper-inflated prices of degree programs, but a major complaint from professional companies is just how out of sync recent graduates are with the needs of their offices. It brings up hard questions about the true value of degree programs, but additionally what type of costs the economy incurs because of hypothetically lost time when future professionals could have been trained right out of high school.

“There is such a disconnect between knowledge and skills required by employers. They’re finding that job applicants lack the skills and training needed for their companies after coming out of a traditional education,” says Zairah Khurshid of Proversity, an edtech startup focused on building professional, digital universities.

Instead of working from scratch and doing the research in-house to decide on a range of courses individuals and enterprises might want, Proversity is working on a service model that builds the courses requested by clients. What Proversity loses in the girth of its offerings — akin to a large university like this writer’s alma mater Rutgers University with its 200 majors — it gains in efficiency by focusing on subjects that they know clients need covered immediately. Each course is responding to a specific demand.

“While existing MOOC providers like Coursera, Udemy, and Udacity already offer courses on a wide range of topics, the way we differ from them is that we work directly with corporate clients (companies and academic institutions) in order to produce open courses for professional development and career training across sectors,” Khurshid notes.

Each course the company builds is attached to a licensing fee and fees for each of the students. There is a huge drop-off rate where as many as 2,000 people might start a program but less than half of that crop actually finish it.

“We use direct content from our clients and create a digital university on our platform to provide accessible open learning for learners (graduates, school leavers, and experienced professionals) to develop real-world skills that employers are looking for today.”

Competition from traditional academic centers is difficult to gauge. It is not unheard of by any means for traditional universities and colleges to design courses in response to popular demand. The tech space is aware of efforts by MBA programs to develop entrepreneur-specific business tracks for a startup-enthused economy. But this is a different bear. The clientele Proversity is servicing is also extremely diverse.

Projects

“We’ve worked with the Royal Artillery of the British Armed Forces to create a course for soldiers, as they enter the army without finishing their GCSE (high school diploma) they need to build their skills to re-enter the workforce when they finish serving. It’s to enable them to create and find opportunities by completing interactive and engaging courses on English and Math skills,” Khurshid explains.

They’ve partnered with the public program Start-Up Chile to create the Start-Up Chile Digital Academy. Course offerings include High Performance Teams, From Zero to Traction Using Email, Pitch Training, Inbound Marketing, and Content Marketing. Other partners include Family Mosaic, Network Rail, the S Factory, Lloyds Bank, Lloyd’s Register, the Bank of England, Aspire Achieve Advance, the Sarina Russo Institute, and D&AD.

Unconventional courses include Exploring Enterprise Mentoring, Customer Development, rail-related Earthing & Bonding, and trainbound Overhead Line Equipment 101.

“The Chilean government has really gotten behind it. They’re thinking, ‘Why not up-skill local talent to meet corporations when they reach Chile?'”

“We’re growing very fast because people are very attracted to the idea. We already have offices in Boston, Chile, and a new office in Cape Town in addition to focusing on clients in London.”

Visiting Tel Aviv

London Mayor Boris Johnson laughs as he gets up to speak at Campus Tel Aviv Monday, November 9th (photo credit: Gedalyah Reback)
London Mayor Boris Johnson laughs as he gets up to speak at Campus Tel Aviv Monday, November 9th (photo credit: Gedalyah Reback)

Khurshid was on the London mayoral delegation last week that toured Tel Aviv. What was remarkable to her was the local investment in the edtech industry, especially compared to a city that seems to be taking a lead in the market.

“Being able to connect with so many people in such a short time with the same aims, and to witness the beginnings of a strengthened relationship between Israel and the UK is very exciting,” Khurshid tells Geektime. “We’ve been surrounded with many influential people who offered really valuable insight and real advice to better our businesses.”

The company is considering ways to diversify their offerings and expand their reach. There is obviously a temptation to look at Israel as an orange ripe for the picking. All in all, Khurshid said the visit was a change of pace when she encountered the professional culture.

“There’s a lot of government facilitation here in edtech that we would like to see in the UK. Being able to see how far edtech has come in Israel and the dedication and investment put into the industry by the government is great. In Israel, business is more direct and a very well-connected in Tel Aviv, so it’s a good way to diversify your business when looking to expand internationally from the UK.”

Proversity was founded by Krishan Meetoo, Carl Dawson, Kwabena Aning, and Sara Bauchmüller. They employ more than a dozen people in three offices in London, Boston, and Santiago.

In honor of this series of UK-focused and edtech articles, our American-heavy reporting team will be honoring the Empire by using the Oxford comma. Due to lack of a local seaport and dearth of “appropriated” Native American costumes, no tea will be thrown into harbors over the course of this series.

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