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Our commitment to address racial inequality through education

A statement from FutureLearn CEO Simon Nelson on the Black Lives Matter movement, and how FutureLearn intends to address racial inequality through education.

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This is the first time, as a company, we’ve spoken about the Black Lives Matter movement – for this we can only apologise. The reason we’ve taken our time is intentional because we know our house isn’t in order, and we want to deliver action, not just words. As Chief Executive, speaking on behalf of the company, I’m going to explain what we’ve done in the last three weeks and what we are committed to doing beyond that. 

Everyone at FutureLearn abhors racial discrimination. We were all sickened by the murder of George Floyd and the awful acts of violence against black people that preceded and have followed it. We’ve also been greatly moved by the protests these recent incidents have catalysed and by the unlocking of discussion about racism that has been prompted. Indeed, this has led to a greater awareness for all of us that racism is something that has been talked about (and not acted against enough) for a very long time. 

I would not normally comment in this way myself, but I have witnessed and heard the strength of feeling within FutureLearn itself on this issue and I recognise the hurt and distress it is bringing to our black community, as well as to many others who feel deeply that they want to see change. The black community within FutureLearn has fed back to me that we should stand more visibly with our black colleagues and indeed our community of black learners around the world and I now understand the importance of this. 

FutureLearn is an education company whose purpose is to transform access to education, and that is the contribution I believe our public response can make – to help people find and access high-quality education that will help them understand, react, and respond to what they are encountering in traditional and social media. 

However, when we examined our portfolio, we did not find as many courses relevant to black history, black culture, or anti-racism as we hoped to see. Over the years, we have not prioritised these courses and our partners have not prioritised developing them. 

 We have decided therefore that it is time to act, to do more as an education platform, as a global partnership of educators and as an organisation ourselves.  

 

Financial support for courses on black history & culture and anti-racism

We have launched an access fund to help initiate a response from existing and new partners, to help them produce courses in important areas where currently we have gaps that relate directly to black history, systemic racism and racial inequality. The value of the fund is £50,000. We also plan to waive fees for new partners who can create relevant content or bring new perspectives to our output. 

 We’ve already reached out to over 25 potential partners; and while we’re not in a position to make any announcements yet, conversations are going well and we will have courses on our platform soon. Ideally, we’d like some of these courses to be aimed at teachers, schoolkids, and employees because we feel these are key areas where education can make a serious difference. 

 

Diversity and inclusivity on our courses 

We’re also updating our course guidelines to ensure our partners deliver more diversity and inclusivity within the courses on our platform. The whole education industry has a huge opportunity here to lead by example and we call on all of our partners to consider who their lead educators are on courses and if they are representative of all our learners. 

 We are proud of the impact we have already had in opening up access to the world’s leading universities for people who could not otherwise have dreamt of studying there; and we would like to do more to help people take the next step, beyond short courses, and gain access to study undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications. We believe we can do more to widen access to the world’s top universities and can work with our partners to help grow the number of black students studying and succeeding with them. 

 

FutureLearn itself

We are also reviewing our people initiatives with a view to identifying and addressing gaps in current policies, being transparent about the progress we are (or aren’t) making, and setting out our commitments more clearly. This must include improving the lack of representation at the most senior levels of our company. But immediately, we are doing our very best to ensure the wellbeing of our black staff. 

Thank you for reading this. I’m fully aware that, as a company, we haven’t got this right. But we’re now working hard to change that. We hope to have more news on new partners and courses soon, but in the meantime, I’d like to direct you to this blogpost which includes educational resources from and for the black community that could be invaluable in the effort we must all make to educate ourselves.

Simon Nelson

 

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