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Online educator 2U takes on undergraduate market with LSE partnership

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London School of Economics has teamed up with OPM 2U to offer an online bachelor's degree.


By Emma Richards 

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Online programme management (OPM) company 2U are bouncing back from underwhelming growth figures to take on the undergraduate market in a new partnership with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The team announced the new venture on Monday, which will include a 36-month online bachelor’s degree programme in data science and business analytics – all of which is carried out online. The agreement is sealed with a 10-year contract between 2U and LSE, along with LSE’s parent, the University of London.

The course is a shake-up for 2U, that has been seen its stocks plummet and stakeholders bail in recent months after the company failed to reach its ambitious projected growth targets. The US-based company made a name for itself helping top-flight universities, such as the University of Southern California, launch large online graduate programmes.

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In July, CEO and co-founder Chip Paucek spoke openly about the challenges they had faced in a market that is increasingly competitive, increasingly regulated, and increasingly costly to operate.

The shift into the global undergraduate market is part of the company’s shift in strategy to include a wider array of program types and price points as well as the use of fee-for-service contracts.

“We are thrilled to partner with the University of London and the LSE, two world-class institutions, on our first online undergraduate degree,” said Paucek in a press release.

“Data science and business analytics have become essential skills in today’s digital economy, and our bachelor’s degree offering will help prepare students across the globe for this new workforce reality.”

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The online bachelor’s degree will be developed by faculty from LSE’s Departments of Statistics, Mathematics, Economics, and Management, and the curriculum will include a strong focus on statistics, mathematics, and computing skills. It is priced around US$21,000 for United Kingdom-based students and US$25,000 for international students.

This is not the first time the two have collaborated. LSE entered 2U’s orbit through the company’s acquisition of short-course provider GetSmarter in 2017. This was one of many acquisitions made on the part of 2U. Other big names include academic boot camp specialists, Trilogy Education, and fellow OPM, Keypath Education.

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With the exception of one very early initiative in 2014, 2U has largely avoided online undergraduate programmes, despite it being a far bigger market than its usual offerings of graduate degrees. Plans to expand into the area have been in the works for a couple of years now, according to Paucek, who claims the move was not related to the fall in stocks last month.

“This was us building a programme with an existing institutional customer, not a reaction to what happened in the stock market,” he said.

“It happens to be a programme that is going to create great access by being priced at an affordable level, and it’s a very important step for us to be creating our first undergraduate programme. It just happens to come at time where we’re being doubted.”