US ed tech giant exits bootcamps after raking in £5m

Struggling firm leaves UK training 'in the best interest of students'

Struggling firm leaves UK training 'in the best interest of students'

A troubled US education technology giant that raked in at least £5 million from the UK government to deliver skills bootcamps has left the flagship scheme in “the best interests of students”.

2U landed a multi-million pound contract in October 2022 to deliver front-end web development bootcamps to thousands of adults in England through its subsidiary edX Boot Camps (UK) Limited. 

But Ofsted said its offer, delivered wholly online by tutors in the US during out-of-work hours, was marked by high dropout rates. There was no personal teaching and few participants entered work.

2U has now told FE Week it is winding down its UK skills bootcamps.

A spokesperson said the company paused starts in January, although there was no mention of this in a recent Ofsted report that followed an inspection in March. 

edX Boot Camps (UK) was also still advertising upcoming programmes in the UK at the time of going to press.

The spokesperson said: “Universities regularly review student feedback and attendance to determine if a course remains effective or viable and adjust their offerings accordingly. Similarly, 2U routinely develops and iterates new programmes, and monitors their outcomes to determine that they continue to serve the best interests of students, our partners, and 2U.

“In January, under new leadership and as part of our focus on sustainability, we decided to proactively wind down the boot camps we offered through the Department for Education.”

2U’s stock price hit $98.58 (about £74) in 2018 but has been trading below $1 for much of 2024. Last month it published an article titled “setting the record straight” on its website, denying it was on the verge of a shutdown.

FE Week understands that a whistleblower reported edX Boot Camps (UK) to the DfE last year over the treatment of students and the safety of public funds after its US overseers allegedly reneged on promises to employ England-based coaches.

It was also alleged that 2U management was not concerned about edX UK student outcomes as the company would make a profit on the contract, even if no bootcamp participant moved on to a job.

2U’s bootcamps contract through edX was initially worth £4.8 million, but it would have received an extension, with more funding, towards the end of 2023. 2U and the DfE refused to tell FE Week how much money the company has received in total.

The half-a-billion-pound flagship scheme

The bootcamps were launched in 2020 as part of then-chancellor Rishi Sunak’s attempts to train more adults in areas of national skills shortage, such as construction, manufacturing and digital.

More than half a billion pounds has been committed to the intensive free courses that are studied at levels 3 to 5, last between 12 and 16 weeks, and end with a guaranteed job interview.

There has been concern about oversight of the programme, given that much funding to run the training was handed to commercial companies initially outside the scope of any Ofsted inspection.

The watchdog was finally given powers to inspect all bootcamp providers in late 2022. 

Inspectors that visited edX said leaders drew on their teaching of “bootcamps” online in America to plan courses in front-end web development in England, intended to fill skills gaps in the digital sector.

However, they “underestimated the challenges that this would pose, particularly in teaching courses over fewer weeks than those to which they were accustomed”.

edX Boot Camps (UK) does not employ anybody in the UK, according to its latest published accounts at Companies House.

But the US company told FE Week that it had “many” employees in the UK, but that they worked under an unnamed different subsidiary and only for “administrative efficiencies”.

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