Education technology is currently one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors. Dorothy Lepkowska, UCL EDUCATE’s Communications Lead, looks at why investors need to take more interest in this burgeoning industry.
When the Education Foundation launched its EdTech Vision 2020, it could not have predicted how far the industry would have come in the intervening years, nor the direction in which it has grown in the commercial and political landscapes.
The policy document looked ahead to a future of interconnected schools, colleges and universities; of high-speed connectivity and infrastructure and crucially, an expectation that it would be driven by evidence of measurable outcomes.
Fast-forward three years and edtech is now one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, accounting for 4% of all digital companies. Globally, it is expected that it will grow at 7% annually – worth £45 billion in 2015, it is scheduled to reach almost £128 billion by 2020, according to JISC.
The UK edtech landscape has developed faster than most in the Europe, with start-ups and technologists flocking here to collaborate and experiment. As a result of the success of accelerators such as UCL EDUCATE, the UK now hosts more than 1,200 edtech companies – a quarter of Europe’s total, with the sector growing at a rate of 22% year on year. The UK ranks first in educational technology venture capital and angel funding in Europe, contributing 34% (£178 million) of the total. Since 2014, it has secured 40% of all European investment in edtech.
One of the main reasons for this huge expansion is the growing demand for technology in the classroom. Schools in the UK spend an estimated £900 million a year on edtech to improve and facilitate teaching and learning, and to ease teacher workload, which remains a major factor in the teacher shortage crisis. Whether it is helping parents nurture their babies’ cognitive skills, developing basic literacy and numeracy in early years, boosting STEM knowledge at GCSE and A-level, or helping university students with dissertations – or assisting teachers with diagnostic testing, monitoring and recording of student achievement – there seems hardly to be a challenge or problem that is not being addressed by the nation’s edtech entrepreneurs and innovators, often in quite specific and niche areas.
The pressures of school accountability and a greater expectation of, and willingness by, parents to be involved in the education process means that they, too, are becoming bigger consumers of edtech in the form of toys and home learning aides, and the use of apps on smartphones and hand-held devices. The current annual rise in home education may also be feeding this expansion, as families look for interactive alternatives to traditional methods of teaching.
But the expansion is also down to the success of the UK edtech landscape itself and the way it is evolving. Indeed, where the Education Foundation’s edtech vision has materialised is in the measurement of efficacy and impact of edtech. As a research accelerator, UCL EDUCATE has spearheaded this drive, and introduced not only an evidence-base into the design and development of edtech but it promotes those companies long after they have left the programme, through events such as its annual Demo Day. These successful cohorts are also acknowledged through the programme’s own quality assurance mark, the EdWard. Educators and schools are actively encouraged to demand evidence of impact and efficacy, so that the tools and materials they purchase – often with dwindling and scarce schools’ budgets – are effective, robust and fit for purpose. The EdWard helps the edtech companies to do this.
Against this backdrop of expansion and quality management, the UK edtech market has much to commend it to investors, though set in the context of fintech and medtech it is still ‘early days’ for the industry. Nevertheless, these are important early days. The expansion of the UCL EDUCATE programme into the global landscape in the coming year will strengthen not only the UK’s place in the international edtech space through collaboration and cooperation but will ensure that it keeps pace with the international giants – the USA and China.
Quite simply, the future success of our education system, and our ability to compete in the global employment market, depends on it. Digitalisation, globalisation, personalisation and automation are already leaving their mark in schools and in the workplace. We cannot afford to fall behind.