By Ry Rivard
The providers of massive open online courses have rapidly expanded in the past year, aided in part by a series of potentially lucrative no-bid deals with public colleges and universities, including for services that may extend beyond the MOOC model.
At least 21 universities and higher education systems in 16 states have signed agreements with Coursera, Udacity or edX without going through a competitive bidding process, according to interviews and open records requests by Inside Higher Ed.
The deals include contractual language that could be used to divert untold amounts of taxpayer or student tuition money to outside vendors.
Representatives of the state-run institutions cite a variety of reasons for why they signed the deals without seeking formal proposals from competing vendors: Almost all of the agreements have little or no upfront costs for universities. They are also non-exclusive, meaning universities can take their business elsewhere. And MOOC providers, new to the higher ed scene, are said to offer unique products.
Some university officials said they were simply experimenting with MOOC technology or said they had no plans to make money from the arrangements – two positions that suggest they are unsure if MOOCs can ever be profitable. Universities have talked about using the MOOC providers not just to offer MOOCs, but to serve as a platform for other online education, to deliver remedial education, and to provide services similar to those of learning management systems — in other words, all functions provided by various companies and nonprofits, with contracts typically awarded through some sort of procurement system.
While MOOC providers have been able to escape competitive bidding and sign major deals at large and prestigious institutions in a relatively short period of time, traditional technology deals by state-run institutions can require lengthy evaluations, said Phil Hill, a technology consultant who has advised higher ed institutions on learning management system procurements.
[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/17/moocs-spread-quickly-aided-no-bid-deals-public-universities ]