GET2020 | Minerva Project: We’ll become more engaged on partnerships in Chinese market

Introduction: It was beyond doubt that the year of 2020 must be an important time pivot for the education industry. As the COVID-19 spreads since the beginning of this year, education is disrupted globally, but learning cannot be stagnant. In this special year, JMDedu will hold the GET (Global Education Technology) Summit under the theme of “Redefine Learning” to help both Chinese and international EdTech practitioners deep dive into the changes and rebuild confidence.

While what has been significantly changing in China? And where will the opportunities lie in the Chinese education market? In the upcoming weeks leading to the GET 2020 Summit, we will share our insights on how companies and organizations are rapidly adapting to change, as well as explore potential opportunities for further business collaboration.

Image Credits: tuchong

During the tough time, China is still a market full of potential for overseas education companies to explore into. We will take Minerva as an example to talk about how it uses seemingly unattractive ways to garner interest from students and partners from China and other countries.

ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, has deepened its foray into online education by launching a new brand Dali Education and wrapping off its first consumer gadget — a $100 lamp with built-in displays for kids last month.

Minerva Project is among the education companies that the China-based internet technology giant invested. The company raised $57 million in a Series C round led by ByteDance and other investors from Asia. To date, it has secured more than $128 million in venture capital. TAL, a listed education group based in Beijing, also backed Minerva Project.

In addition to interest from investors, Minerva’s university program has also attracted students across the world, 10% of the total population comes from China.

JMDedu has always paid attention to the development of the innovative university since its inception. In 2014 we talked with Kenn Ross, Managing Director of Asia at Minerva Project, and recently we had another in-depth chat with him.

Amid such an uncertainty due to the global crisis, will Minerva provide new insights to us after more than six years?

10% of Minerva Schools students come from China

Minerva currently consists of two entities: the non-profit part, Minerva Schools at KGI, and the for-profit part, Minerva Project, which owns the technology platform the school runs on, called Forum, and also sells the platform and courses to other schools and organizations.

The non-profit program was the early and maybe one of the most well-known programs launched by the company. Enrolled students are allowed to travel and study in seven cities in different countries during four years, and meanwhile, they take classes online through the Forum platform.

Minerva Schools has no quotas, minimums, or maximums for any types of students, so the number and percentage of students enrolled from different countries and regions has fluctuated over time. However, Chinese students still account for a large percentage.

In the founding class of 28 students there were seven Chinese students that year. Since then Chinese students have averaged about 10% of each class of (regular cohorts of 120–150 students each year).“We’ve have around 70 Chinese students currently studying in our undergraduate program, which is also close to ten percent of our population,” Ross noted.

Maybe you think that Minerva Schools must have its own secret weapon to market the program. However, Ross stressed that China is not a “market” as Minerva Schools is a non-profit program.

Different from usual methods that many universities and colleges use to attract potential students, including advertising, “Minerva selects students. We do not ‘recruit’ students. We do not believe in marketing our program to students in ways most universities do,” he said.“Rather, Minerva focuses on engaging groups of students, parents, and high school educators all over the world in deep conversations about the meaning of university, what it should be, and how Minerva has been re-imagining and redefining university as we know it.”

One of the recent updates of the program is that Minerva Schools is in progress to separate from KGI, which will take one to two years. That means Minerva Schools is now self-funded.

“Minerva Schools was originally financially funded by Minerva Project, but now it relies on philanthropy and to a lesser extent tuition to fund itself,” according to Ross. Netflix Founder Reed Hasting has recently given a seven-figure philanthropic gift to it.

Amid the national lockdown caused by COVID-19, it has been harder for students to go overseas, seeming to pose a threat to the non-profit business.

However, Minerva Schools, which provides remote learning from the very beginning, hasn’t seen any decrease in enrollments. “Last year we had an unprecedented high number of applicants. We had a full class of students matriculate this fall, which is about 140 or 150 students,” Ross said. “Our students still have the opportunity, if they wish, to travel to some of the Minerva rotation cities, where we can provide a lot of health and safety precautions in the residence halls.”

Become more engaged in China with new offering

“COVID-19 has had positive impact on our partnerships and relationships as we build more collaboration with universities, corporate learning centers, and now high schools around the world who are even more keen to adopt Minerva’s method of education,” Ross told JMDedu about the effect of the pandemic.

It should be noted that “high schools” is a new target that Minerva Project tends to partner with. The program has an official name, Minerva Baccalaureate.

It is a four-year program that teaches essential skills across disciplines. The program blends self-paced coursework with peer-based class time. The first three years entail advanced high school learning, with the fourth year entirely devoted to college-level coursework that includes a final capstone project.

How does Minerva Project let more people know the newly launched or other for-profit programs? Ross noted that they demonstrate these programs to peers and others by showing outcomes gained through the non-profit university program, sharing concepts at private and small public forums, and also by seeking advice from schools, colleges and enterprises.

The company also adopts a seemingly unattractive way similar to that it uses to enroll students to select partners. “We don’t have strict requirements, including the school size or history, for our partners.” Ross said, “They only need to support Minerva’s vision and mission, and believe in evidence-based learning, and lastly need to have the willingness to invest human and material resources to conduct an overall reform.” Minerva Project usually spends several months to communicate with schools, added he.

China is a potential market for Minerva Project to establish more partnerships.“We expect to see more collaboration with universities, high schools and organizations,” he suggested. “I think particularly maybe not only international programs and international high schools, but also forward-thinking high schools in general in China can adopt the Minerva Baccalaureate as the new gold standard for a very rigorous, modern, and relevant high school curriculum.”

It is for sure that Minerva will also expand more partnerships with schools and organizations into the global market.

Besides the high school program, the company also partners with universities and enterprises to provide services like financial modeling, curriculum design, instructor training, and support learner assessment, etc. It began selling its online curriculum and technology platform Forum to other educational institutions in 2018.

Ross mentioned that Minerva Project’s revenue basically comes from these partnerships, based on the licensing of its curriculum, pedagogy, and Forum technology.

He said that licensing is different from revenue sharing model that online program managers (OPM) usually adopt. Partners doesn’t have to pay a large percentage of their revenues, say 50% or even higher, but only need to pay a lower licensing fee based on the number of students in the program every semester.

Based on experience in working at Minerva Project, Ross suggested that domestic education institutions in China take a long-term view to achieve growth, as China is going through a gradual economic transition.

At GET2020, an edtech summit host by JMDedu, Ben Nelson, Minerva Founder and CEO, introduced Minerva Baccalaureate, and said that one of the reasons to launch the new high school program is that “We noticed that even Minerva students we find from all over the world came to Minerva without some preparation we expect to see from high school students.”For Ben’s full speech, please click the link.

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