FutureLearn to ‘significantly reduce expenditure’ after losses

Open University confirms plans to sell its stake in company it helped to found

October 7, 2022

The chief executive of online education provider FutureLearn has told partners that the company plans to “significantly reduce expenditure” in the wake of financial difficulties.

The Open University – which has invested in the massive open online course (Mooc) platform since its launch in 2012 – also said it was planning to sell its 50 per cent stake in the business.

Just one year after joining FutureLearn as CEO, Andy Hancock revealed the “emerging news” in a letter to the company’s partners.

“As you know the current external environment has become extremely challenging and FutureLearn is not immune to these pressures.

“Today we announced to our employees that the board in conjunction with the shareholders are assessing the strategic options for the company. In the meantime, we must significantly reduce our expenditure,” he wrote.

Launched in 2012 in partnership with 12 universities, FutureLearn currently partners with more than 260 universities, brands and government departments.

“The current external environment has become extremely challenging, and FutureLearn is not immune to these pressures,” a company spokesperson told Times Higher Education.

“As a result, the board in conjunction with the shareholders are assessing the strategic options for the company. The board has appointed advisers to explore the option of finding a new owner,” the spokesperson added.

Mr Hancock, who became FutureLearn’s chief executive officer in October last year, told THE earlier this year that he was encouraged by the platform’s popularity with younger learners retraining for new jobs.

However, despite securing more users, its recent annual accounts showed a loss of £13.2 million in 2019-20 – more than double the £6.6 million loss a year previously.

The Open University said it regularly reviews its funding position and investment portfolio and confirmed that it is now seeking to sell its stake.

“FutureLearn has made a fantastic contribution to providing accessible online short courses to millions of learners worldwide, so we hope a buyer can be found soon,” said an Open University spokesperson.

Mr Hancock told partners that the company plans to fulfil its obligations, but the spending cuts would affect investments in reimagining its platform and in expanding its new offering targeted at businesses, Enterprise.

He added that every effort was being made to “minimise the impact to our learners, customers and partners”.

In the last financial quarter of 2021-22, FutureLearn launched courses from 16 new partners to its community of 18 million global users.

“This signals a significant moment for the UK in the context of higher education digital platforms,” said Adam Matthews, a lecturer on education, technology and society at the University of Birmingham.

Dr Matthews said the statement suggests that FutureLearn’s model – which has evolved into microcredentials, corporate training and full degrees – has not been financially viable.

Australian education provider SEEK Group – which owns the other 50 per cent stake in the company – has also been contacted for comment.


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles