The EduTech nightmare in Higher Ed


A caveat first: I am not opposed to innovation and uses of technology in higher education. As a professor of education for 15 years (and a K-12 teachers for 10 years before that) I see technology as a great tool or resource that enables me to be a better educator (when used correctly). However, I am frightened by the impending nightmare scenario promoted by venture capitalists and edutech start up companies who have funded and promote common core, high stakes testing, big data, and “accountability” as vehicles to dismantle public education, and pass it off into the privatized hands of corporate profits and interests (at the expense of our rights, privacy, and democracy). “Reform” … which is winding it’s way from K-12 into the sphere of higher education is just another phase in the education “land grab” in which policies (that lead to abusive practices on learners and teachers), under the hegis of “innovation” disruption” or “access and equity” are merely selling points for buyers–none of which has been documented as being meaningful, sustainable, or even proven effective.

And they’re coming….not to merely offer services or products. But to recreate public education, and higher education in its image. PROFITABLE and PRIVATIZED.

Meet one such company: University Ventures.

University Ventures Fund (limited partnership) is a private equity fund federal exemption 506b, founded in 2011.

Homebase is New York City

On their “About” page:

Their “carefully selected investor base “ will reap huge profits on “market-leading returns while playing a positive and sustainable role in the transformation of higher education.”

The funds two biggest investors are the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG and the University of Texas Investment Management Company.

The projects will include “helping institutions expand the scale of their academic programs, re-engineer how they deliver instruction, and better measure student outcomes; the first two investments, also announced today, will be creating a curriculum through Brandman University aimed at improving the educational outcomes of Hispanic students, and a company that helps universities in Britain and elsewhere in Europe deliver their courses online.”

In other words, universities are an untapped market for business to corporations who can in turn use their monies to sway poliicies practices and ideologies within the university system. This is a GLOBAL system which includes, “the largest most sophisticated investors in the US and globally, including founders of successful education enterprises, major University endowments, leading education philanthropists, and Bertelsmann, the 177-year-old international media and services company owned and controlled by one of Europe’s largest and most important not-for-profit foundations.”

What is Bertelsmann? It’s a corporate investment center.

Divisions include RTL group (an entertainment company), Random House (publishing), Gruner and Jahr (a publishing house), Arvato (outsourcing services), and Be Printers (which produces produce magazines, catalogs, brochures, books, and calendars).

What could publishing and entertainmnent companies want from investing in higher ed? Million dollar business contract perhaps? Who publishes and prints more than a university? Who offers more in the way of technology needs and sources of data? Where else can you “mold” future workers for your global corporations?

Who WORKS at University Ventures?

Some of them worked previously at Edison Learning. Another was CTO of Apollo Group where he built and launched cloud-based and data-driven adaptive learning platforms. But the three leaders of this venture are indeed well versed in vulture/venture capitalism:

Daniel began his career as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs. He entered the education industry as Director of Strategy and Planning at LearnNow, a high growth charter school company that was acquired by Edison Schools.

David Figuli has represented seller or buyer in over half of all successful non-profit to for-profit conversions of colleges and universities.


Figuli said, “To the extent we’re trying to remodel higher education, you have to remodel it at the core of the institution, which is still primarily on-ground.”

Ryan Craig was founding Director of Bridgepoint Education (NYSE: BPI), one of the largest online universities Ryan began his career as a consultant with McKinsey & Co.

According to their website, “University Ventures has the capital to assist colleges and universities to develop innovative new programs that will allow them to do a better job of fulfilling their mission and also generate important new revenue streams.”

They are focused on GLOBAL changes in higher education. International link here.

“Bertelsmann’s role as the anchor investor in the recently launched $100m University Ventures Fund signals the arrival of the German media giant as a player in the global education market – a market dominated over the last 18 months by Pearson and private equity firms. The new fund aims to form partnerships with leading universities to jointly develop and deploy online higher education programmes and build scalable education platforms in Europe and the US. Unlike other players in the market, Bertelsmann’s focus is entirely on digital and the opportunities technology provides in education.”

UV partners with global businesses, bringing business and revenue to those corporations via their educational programs.


“The Condé Nast project was an intriguing first partnership for Qubed, Pianko says, because of the opportunity to bring incredibly strong consumer brands into education and connect them with strong university brands to build consumer experiences commensurate with the quality of those brands.”

See here to see their BOARD of DIRECTORS

Click here to see UV White paper which explicates their broader approach:

General takeaways from the white paper–

UV is interested in creating “competency based education” (over seat time)— Here is where national agenda like common core and edTPA reflect their agenda. To create streamlined revenue sources by creating online education, data…streamlined big data…is necessary. And it relegates educators and classrooms as expendable.

“The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching on Tuesday announced that it would use a $460,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to study the Carnegie Unit, which forms the basis of a time-based measurement of student learning. The credit hour calls for one credit per hour of faculty instruction and two hours of homework, on a weekly basis, over a 15-week semester …Accreditors and the U.S. Department of Education are working through how to regulate institutions that want tomove beyond the credit hour. It’s unclear how much the Carnegie Foundation’s new tack might help them in those efforts, but it probably won’t hurt.”

“Produce more learning for less work” (p.12)

Common Core is a boon for companies like this.

Accordingly, “Race to the Top has required states interested in securing additional funding to reform policies around a defined set of defined progressive priorities and align curricula and assessments to the new Common Core State Standards in both English Language Arts and Math. The Common Core has now been adopted to some extent by 46 states and for the first time America has something approximating a national market in K-12. This will lead to an explosion of innovation from publishers and edtech companies who will invest in systems and products to serve 46 states at a time.”

The business, venture capital and marketing industries are salivating:

As one business journal crows: “Gamified mobile apps, all manner of e-books and classroom analytics tools are just a few of the business models attracting venture capital dollars in the $5.4 billion K-12 education technology industry. In California alone, state estimates peg the implementation costs of Common Core around $3 billion, opening the door for companies pitching cost-effective tech tools”.


Consider David Coleman at the helm of College Board and it’s new partnership with Kahn Academy as a vision of the shape of thinsg to come.

It’s worth noting too that the Head of Finance for Kahn Academy served as the CFO for New Schools Venture Fund.

Why are Unions the Enemy?

EdSurge claims, “K-12 schools, on the other hand, are notorious for strong teachers unions and administrative bureaucracy that can make sales more challenging for vendors. Common Core offers new market incentives for entrepreneurs who can navigate those thorny realities.”

In other words, University Ventures is just one of many vulture—um…venture –capital projects.

See this Chart for a list of the top 12 edutech companies vying for profits from higher education. UniversityVentures is on the list.

Some of University Venture’s current investments include UniversityNow, which provides access to online college courses at accredited institutions, and Synergis Education, which partners with universities in the area of marketing and recruitment.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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