Regulate e-learning platforms, urges former Unesco chief

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The dizzying growth of e-learning platforms during the pandemic has raised the question of whether they should be regulated internationally to avoid market monopoly by elite Western universities, a former senior United Nations official said. .

Getachew Engida, who served as Deputy Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization from 2010 to 2018, said Times Higher EducationIt’s Emerging Economies Summit that he feared that a small number of well-known universities might dominate online education through their partnerships with digital providers such as edX and Coursera.

“You need to have a regulatory environment to ensure that some do not dominate at the expense of others,” said Prof. Engida, now distinguished professor and co-director of the University’s China-Africa Leadership Development Institute. Tsinghua to THEof the Dubai Summit, which was held in association with the University of the United Arab Emirates.

His concerns come amid growing concerns about ‘platform imperialism’ in the digital learning space, some of which fear it will be impossible for non-Western universities to develop their own online learning tools. through the dominance of established Western vendors who have partnered with leading universities. offer free and paid online courses.

Online learning platforms have grown in popularity during the pandemic, Coursera is said to have 77 million active learners and edX 44 million. Coursera, founded nine years ago by two professors at Stanford University, is now valued at $ 7 billion (£ 5 billion) after its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in March 2021, after being valued to $ 1 billion in 2019 and $ 2.5 billion in 2020. edX, which was created by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was recently sold in a deal worth of $ 800 million (£ 560 million).

Professor Engida, an executive of Ethiopian descent who has held senior positions at Ernst & Young and Reuters, said THEwelcomed the educational opportunities created by online providers, but expressed concern that “some institutions will dominate for a while”.

“But I would not go so far as to say that this is a recolonization of higher education,” he added.

Professor Engida, however, wanted the regulations to encourage major e-learning providers to have a “system of governance with multiple stakeholders,” he said, who he hoped would support measures aimed at to make education “open and accessible”.

“You have to have an international mechanism to regulate certain aspects of what are very international operations,” he said.

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