‘Nothing Is Clearer in the Contract Terms Than the Profit Requirements of This Enterprise’
It is refreshing to see the clarity of purpose and profit outlined in the Coursera contract with the University of Kentucky System that highlights, among other things, the charmingly disingenuous belief of early adopters that this was a prestige enterprise to educate the masses with academic superstars for free.
At Inside Higher Ed: Coursera and the NCAA.
The Coursera contract, developed in a much more business-like fashion than the original, endlessly collaborative town meeting style of the NCAA, creates a similar franchising system, although it does not pretend to be a not-for-profit enterprise but asserts its role as a revenue generating organization. The Coursera contract careful delineates the obligations of the university to provide university generated courses to the Coursera platform that meet Coursera standards for presentation, operation, and pedagogy. As the university cedes its authority over course form and structure, it is allowed to keep its control over the specific content, although within strict guidelines that ensure certain standardized pedagogical mechanisms related to grading, feedback, and student interaction. Coursera will remove university courses that do not meet the platform’s requirements, and if there is a dispute, a council of academics will adjudicate a final resolution. The contract specifies a variety of mechanisms for sharing revenue and costs, but the primary financial risk of launching a course falls on the university. If the course is very successful, then Coursera generated revenue will be shared with the institution and institutionally generated revenue from Coursera products sold to university enrolled student will be shared with the company.
The key components of both the NCAA and Coursera franchises lie in the requirement that the university give up control over the presentation and delivery of its content. In sports, the university produces the games, recruits the athletes, hires the coaches, manages the enterprise, and delivers the product in the specified standardized format, reserving for itself the opportunity to brand the product, but always within franchise dictated standards in delivering the product to external audiences. The university controls some aspects of the success of the games. It can invest as much as it wants in producing high quality successful events, within the constraints of the rules. But it does not control the rules or the requirements for the operation of the university’s branded athletic program, and it assumes all risk of failure.