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University Ventures

A Step Forward? Bertelsmann & Others Back $100 Million Venture Fund For Innovative Education

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Just as (mobile) technology is bringing some exciting changes to the health industry, it’s simultaneously over in the classroom trying to save education before it’s too late. I’m not sure we’re even close to “too late”, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that, like the health industry, the educational system (and I don’t limit that to the U.S.) is broken.

Millions of young people are entering a system that just isn’t built to handle the diversity of learning styles — or the speed of innovation. Peter Thiel is right: Higher education is in a bubble. I’m not sure dropping/stopping out is the always the best answer, but the point remains.

The truth is that, while higher education may be in a bubble, most institutions are starved for cash. Whether they’re subject to the consequences of their own poor decisions or victims of an unkind global economy, (generally speaking) institutions are strapped for cash. California, for one has been struggling mightily, with funding for public education at an all time low last year.

Because of these funding limitations, institutions struggle to take big steps forward, with STEM initiatives, technology in the classroom, etc. It’s not just because they don’t want to change, but certainly fear does play a role. As this is the case, there’s been some blurring of lines between for-profit and non-profit institutions over the last few years, as universities and colleges try to figure out how to move forward. Patrick Gibbons advises startups to take their innovative products to entrepreneurial schools, like private schools, virtual schools, charter schools, home school networks or even directly to the students — essentially, for profit schools, hungry for enrollment.

In light of all this, I was intrigued by the news yesterday that some education veterans have launched something called the University Ventures Fund, a $100 million fund, which is essentially endeavoring to bring private capital to help colleges and universities push forward. Interestingly, while the fund has a whole mess of investors, German media giant Bertelsmann and the University of Texas Investment Management Company are the two largest investors.

The fund, which will make investments in about six projects, is looking to approach innovation from within rather than from the outside, partnering with “rather than competing against” (in their words) traditional institutions. The fund is partnering with a host of the top 30 colleges and universities to direct private capital into programs “that address major economic and social needs”, and University Ventures Fund Partner David Figuli told Inside Highered that all of these projects will look to take advantage of “technology-enabled innovations”.

And judging by one of its projects, Higher Education Online, part of that focus will be on distance learning, as the organization will be partnering with top European universities to bring undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs online (and market them) both in Europe and abroad.

Again, this is only part of the answer, but these public-private partnerships can certainly make some waves. Check out University Venture Funds’ announcement here.

What do you think?