Driving Innovation In Higher Education


Higher education is an industry that is currently undergoing significant transformation, with numerous startups being founded to challenge the traditional service model. There are two central problems that innovators are trying to solve.

  1. Cost

American universities are consistently regarded as providing the highest standard of tertiary education in the world. This excellence comes at significant expense, with tuition fees and levels of student loan debt continuing to grow. A recent report issued by the Federal Reserve of New York has highlighted the increasing number of Americans that are falling behind on their student loan repayments. The total amount of debt outstanding in relation to student loans in the US has reached a staggering $1.2 trillion. To put this into some perspective, the amount now owed is greater than the combined GDPs of Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. (Watch out Canada…you’re next!)


  1. Access

The second key issue is that of access. There are large parts of the developing world where people have simple been unable to access higher education due to geographic isolation. For a relative few in a position to do so, this has typically involved the personal and financial cost of relocation. In a shrinking world where connectivity increases every day, digital and mobile technology is now changing that. Even in developed markets these broader technological trends are challenging the manner in which coursework is delivered. By creating new and different ways for students to access coursework remotely, innovators are improving the learning experience.

How Do Startups Tackle These Issues?

Here are two educational startups that are taking different approaches to cater to their target markets:



Sine their advent, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have grown to provide cheap, easy access to intellectual content for millions of students. This has been achieved by fusing modern digital media technology with the resources of some of the world’s finest institutes of higher learning. One startup providing easy access to such courses is coursera.

The mission of coursera is to provide universal access to the world’s best education. It does this by forming partnerships with some of the world’s top universities and then structuring online courses that can be taken by anyone, anywhere, for free! If you can connect to the internet, you can access first rate tertiary level courses for no cost.

Since being founded in 2012, coursera has struck alliances with universities in more than 20 countries. There is a long list of US universities involved, including prestigious institutions such as Stanford, Princeton, Duke and Yale. Students have the ability to select from hundreds of courses that incorporate video lectures, interactive quizzes and peer graded assignments. Their numbers are very impressive.

  • 11+ million registered users
  • 964 courses
  • 118 partners (universities, education departments etc)



An Australian startup that is taking a more conservative approach is eddi. Whilst it offers traditional diploma style qualifications from partner universities on a fee basis, eddi has developed an innovative social network platform called UCROO. Available exclusively to eddi members, UCROO enables students studying remotely to connect with fellow students via mobile or web. They can then create their own study groups, share tips and find mentors. This provides students with an alternative to regular online courses and enables them to better access the university experience they desire in a flexible and friendly manner.

With new courses being offered all the time, eddi is providing a fresh approach to accessing online coursework by harnessing the trend towards increasing use of social technology.

In the examples of coursera and eddi, we have two innovative companies that have introduced disruption to higher education. By connecting students to learning opportunities that they would otherwise not have had, coursera has a model that is tackling the issues of both cost and access for individuals across the developed and developing worlds. Via its UCROO platform, eddi has introduced an important social aspect to the way in which online coursework is accessed.

With countless other startups challenging the status quo in education, this is one industry set for significant change.

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