This article is a part of a new series in which this publication extracts insights from executives, partners and thought-leaders across the education investment landscape, charting developments in a fast-moving market environment

Insendi, an online learning platform developer owned by Study Group, has tripled its user numbers throughout the pandemic as digital becomes a “core part” of university provision, its chief executive has said.

The ed tech start-up, which was spun out of Imperial College London in 2018 and acquired by the private equity-backed pathway provider in February, has grown its user base by 28% since the Covid-19 outbreak began – and expects usage will “double again”.

Insendi helps universities build online learning platforms and courses, as well as offering consultancy advice on digital projects. It currently has 14 clients globally, four of which it acquired during the pandemic.

Terry Sweeney, co-founder and chief executive of Insendi, told this publication: “Usage has tripled on our platforms from the beginning of March up until the summer holidays. When you look at what’s going to happen next term, where we have more clients coming on board, I suspect usage will probably double again.”

Insendi operates a licensing model, whereby clients pay a fee for the platform and services they use. Sweeney said that, the majority of the time, universities have limited in-house capabilities so Insendi is drafted in to help build robust platforms and train staff, after which the institutions will themselves handle implementation of online courses.

Sweeney said that online learning will outlast the pandemic because it has gone from being a stopgap solution that enabled business continuity to an integral component of higher education provision.

“We believe that every university has to be great at online education. It has to be good at education in the classroom – that’s a core part of competence – but so is being good at teaching online, which is becoming a core part of the business,” he said.

The chief executive described the swift shift to online learning among universities as “heroic”, adding that “across the sector, universities did this in just a week, which was unheard of”.

A lot of universities have historically been reluctant to introduce any form of online learning and has been known to change at a slow pace. But Sweeney said that changes implemented across the sector over the past six months would typically take 10 years.

Insendi has capitalised on the accelerated pace of change within universities.

“We had planned for new client acquisition this year and, bearing in mind the increased financial stress in the sector, I’m quite pleased to be on track at this stage in our development,” said Sweeney.

“I think by the time we get to Christmas, certainly for Insendi, there will be an increase in demand because we will have had the first full term of our new clients teaching online and universities will have had six months to make sure the experience was great.”

Universities have taken a varied approach to delivery for the upcoming academic term.

Many Russell Group institutions have announced plans to implement hybrid instruction, combining face-to-face with online provision, as social distancing measures are expected to remain in place for some time. Cambridge University, for instance, announced earlier this year that all lectures would be held online until the summer of next year.

Most universities are hoping to return to some form of normality by 2021, but disruption could last throughout the next academic year, said Sweeney. “I’m usually realistic about the pace of change in the sector but it’s really difficult to judge now because things have moved so fast – we’ve seen 10 years change over six months.”

London-based Study Group, Insendi’s parent, is owned by Ardian, a French private equity fund, which acquired the organisation for around £500 million in February last year.

Date published: 27 August 2020

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