Why Nesta is investing in ed-tech for higher education

Nesta Impact Investments recently led the £7million Series A investment round to support the growth of edtech company, BibliU.  Nesta invested £1million alongside other investors, Guinness Asset Management, Oxford Sciences Innovation and several family offices managed by Stonehage Fleming

Investment in edtech across Europe has grown fast over the past five years and passed the $1bn mark last year. Nesta has been a prominent edtech investor in the venture market, building a portfolio of ten companies across the sector. We see the transformative impact that technology can bring for students, educators and education managers, in enabling more effective learning, improving access to high quality education, reducing teacher workload and providing data-driven decision making tools. 

BibliU is a great example of this. It is a digital learning platform used by universities and higher education institutions to provide students with online access to learning materials. The platform gives educators, academics and university libraries detailed information about content usage patterns and learner engagement that helps them better assess the needs of students. BibliU already has partnerships with over 2000 educational publishers worldwide and offers incredibly comprehensive content coverage. 

We were drawn to support BibliU for several reasons. At its core, BibliU is playing a leading role in the digital transformation of higher education and seeks to support inclusive access to educational content. BibliU offers all students more cost effective access to their course materials and in formats that are inclusive and accessible. There are further environmental benefits of a reduction in print textbooks. 

Closing the access gap

The cost of print textbooks has skyrocketed in recent years. Since 1977, in the UK, textbooks have increased in price at four times the rate of inflation, over 1000%.   87% of students think it is too expensive to buy new textbooks. This leaves more disadvantaged students with poor quality materials such as second hand books that are out of date, or sometimes without course materials at all. In turn, this leaves students worrying they will not achieve the grades they are capable of, simply because they lack access to learning content. In one study, 94% of students who had foregone buying textbooks because of the cost, were concerned that doing so would hurt their grades. During COVID-19, this issue is heightened as social distancing means further lack of access. Ensuring students continue to learn is crucial, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds with no alternatives. 

BibliU provides a solution to this affordability gap. UK universities who sign up to BibliU offer it at zero cost to their students providing equal access to course materials for all. But beyond affordability, the digital format also improves access for students with learning needs such as large text or audio formats. BibliU’s technology offers inclusive access in a personalised way that helps students break down content into components and allows students to be more efficient in searching for definitions, explanations, and figures. BibliU helps students accelerate their learning and enables their teachers and professors to better support them. 

Why investing now matters more than ever

Under current circumstances, the digital technology provided by BibliU also provides a much-needed lifeline for universities adapting to remote learning. There is huge variation across the university sector in terms of tech-readiness. Some universities are at the forefront in applying technology to their learning methodologies, whereas, until recently, many others are still delivering degree education in the same way they have done for decades with face-to-face lectures, classes and tutorials. BibliU is playing a key role in the current Covid-19 crisis, helping universities to shift swiftly to digital learning as students face staying at home for the summer term. Nesta’s investment is supporting BibliU to continue to offer free access to their content during the lockdown, which has seen uptake quadruple. 

Educational content is a $65bn market which dwarfs even music and movies. BibliU has ambitions to reach 60% of the higher education students in the UK and US – 13 million students. The opportunity to deliver innovation at scale is there.  

A Nesta investee, Emerge Education, introduced us to BibliU and we are delighted to build on their early investment and look to scale innovation in higher education through BibliU. It reflects our commitment to the strand of Nesta’s education strategy which seeks to promote a smarter education system to empower learners, teachers and learning institutions to make more effective use of technology and data. Our investment in BibliU sits within Nesta’s broader portfolio of edtech activity which spans schools, higher education and workplace learning and we look to share the insights and experience we draw from this. 

Nesta Impact Investments is excited to be further building on our work in the edtech sector and supporting the BibliU team to transform access to learning in higher education.

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