FutureLearn appoints Ian Howell as new managing director

Online education firm had vacancy at top since departure of chief executive Andy Hancock in March

June 14, 2023
Ian Howell
Ian Howell

Online education firm FutureLearn has appointed Ian Howell as its new managing director.

The UK’s home-grown massive open online course (Mooc) platform had had a vacancy at the top since the departure of chief executive Andy Hancock at the end of March after a financial crisis that presaged its sale by the Open University (OU) and Australia’s Seek Group last November to Global University Systems (GUS).

Mr Howell is currently chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Asia at Higher Ed Partners, which helps universities to deliver courses online. Prior to that he spent six years as managing director of the OU’s worldwide division.

“During my time at the OU, I worked alongside colleagues who established the FutureLearn operation more than 10 years ago, so I’m familiar with the company and excited by the opportunities ahead,” Mr Howell said.

“I see FutureLearn as being uniquely positioned to work with governments, university partners, industry participants and learners to address critical skills deficiencies prevalent across all economies. I am thrilled to join the FutureLearn team and lead the business through its next phase of development.”

Despite the explosion in online learning during the pandemic, FutureLearn struggled to make its offering profitable in the face of heavy competition from larger US competitors.

Before its sale, FutureLearn said it would have to “significantly reduce expenditure” after suffering heavy financial losses. The company posted a £16 million loss in its accounts for 2021 and its shareholders at the time were forced to invest a further £15 million in the platform last August after it became clear that it would not have sufficient funding in place for its requirements over the next 12 months.

GUS, founded in its current form by the Russian entrepreneur Arkady Etingen, owns a number of for-profit higher education institutions in the UK, including the University of Law and Arden University.

It also owns St Patrick’s College and the London School of Business and Finance, institutions that came under close scrutiny in the mid-2010s after both rapidly expanded the recruitment of students on public-backed loans studying sub-degree-level higher national certificate and higher national diploma courses. Both had their licences to recruit international students suspended.

Lord Johnson of Marylebone, chair of FutureLearn, said: “I would like to extend a very warm welcome to Ian, who has demonstrable experience in the HEI sector and joins us at an exciting time.

“FutureLearn is extremely well positioned to build on its success in the digital learning space and is rapidly advancing towards an exciting new strategy. With Ian’s leadership, I am confident that he will help to accelerate FutureLearn’s growth in the sector, bolstering our already strong leadership team and establishing us to be the go-to platform for career-based learning and future skills development.” 


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