David Buckingham, CEO, Navitas
The PIE sat down with Navitas CEO David Buckingham to find out the latest in its various business divisions and how it is moving “beyond pathway”.
The PIE: First off, can you tell me more about Navitas Ventures?
DB: We pursue strategies to advance innovation in education globally at Navitas Ventures. This can include investing in businesses: the interesting thing is, what do we choose to invest in? That takes time, we are pretty selective.
Strategically, we have got a great business in pathway and there is so much growth available to us just in carrying on doing what we are doing. But the sector is going to change fundamentally.
“Inevitably, like all things in the world, the system moves around things that don’t change”
The PIE: We have written an article on the very same topic that you talked about in your speech: the future world of work and seismic shifts in the sector.
DB: [The sector] is fundamentally going to change, and we are going to miss an opportunity if we don’t adapt. Inevitably, like all things in the world, the system moves around things that don’t change.
We know what we want to change too: we want to become a broader service provider to our partners than just pathway, so we are starting this journey now.
That’s a really hard thing to do, and it takes time, investment, it takes the right people. Equally, you don’t want to do it and damage the opportunity you’ve already got to continue growing your own business and doing exactly what you have been doing for the last 20 years. That’s an interesting juggle but we’ve got to do it, because if we don’t we will miss an opportunity and the industry will move around us and leave us behind.
The PIE: Are you only looking at interesting edtech investments which benefit your current network?
DB: For now, yes. When we have established ourselves as a broader service provider, then we will attract what we deserve in terms of growth outside of that portfolio. We will carry on trying to grow our portfolio through our normal business development approach for our pathway services anyway, so we will naturally continue to grow on both fronts. It is future-proofing our business five to 10 years from now.
“I have met many universities that are very proactively changing”
The PIE: If we are talking about the future of education though – do you think HE will continue to be a focus [for students] in the future?
DB: I think that it will survive for many many years to come but it will need to adapt. The threat will be created if it doesn’t adapt. 95% of kids who go to universities get jobs. If that starts to fail, then universities will be forced to change.
I have met many universities that are very proactively changing: they are smart and they are up to it and they are developing their programs to meet the needs of the modern enterprise and the modern workplace already. There are lots that struggle, [others] who don’t think it is important.
The PIE: And when you are choosing new partners, how actively do you get involved with that and how much weight does that approach have?
DB: I am very actively involved. I tend to come into the process early and then late, if that makes sense. We have a very selective approach to finding and picking potential partners and we have learned that over 25 years.
The PIE: Is that the future direction of travel? More partnerships while also diversifying?
DB: It is that combination. For our university partners business, we want to continue to grow our partnerships, deliver the opportunity that is coming from the next wave of international education and growth. I want broader markets as well than just the four we have always operated in.
“If you are not a local it is very hard to actually be able to operate [in China]”
The PIE: Are you looking at China?
DB: No, we are not looking at China. We are interested, it is one of the fastest, if not the fastest growing markets for new universities and new teaching in higher education institutes.
But if you are not a local it is very hard to actually be able to operate. It is much easier as an Australian to try in the UK, Canada, or the US than it is to try in China. We don’t speak the language, the law is different, the rules are different in terms of how you interact with regulators. It is all those extra difficulties that make it a tough job.
The PIE: You mentioned the opportunity for a big division beyond your university partnership division: you have the workplace training and you also do the English language don’t you? Is that how you segment them?
DB: Our English language division is really a supporting service to our pathway division, that sits within our university partnership division.
“There will be gaps in certain higher education systems”
As the workplace changes and universities adapt or don’t adapt, there is going to be a gap. It might not be in one particular country, might not be global, but there will be gaps in certain higher education systems, where there is a perfect opportunity for somebody with a higher education background to provide those modern skills.
We are really interested in that and that is what the other business is doing – it is providing the kind of skills and capability you can’t learn at a normal university.
SAE Institute [offering creative arts industry-linked training] is a perfect example. We’ve got a couple of other smaller businesses that are similar: much more practical- based, vocational-based and there are going to be more and more of those around over time.
The PIE: I read the story around your latest results and that’s the bit of the business which didn’t so well but, interesting place to be while we are talking about the future of education.
DB: The opportunity in that area is going to be massive but that does not necessarily translate to every part of the world that you choose to operate. So, we had to make some tough decisions on the US part of the portfolio.
The regulatory environment is not supportive in the US at the moment to be able to provide a quality outcome for students and be able to run a business off of it. That is not the case in many other parts of the world. Some of our SAE businesses are the most profitable ones and our most successful in terms of student outcomes.
“The regulatory environment is not supportive in the US at the moment”
The PIE: You highlighted in your presentation a move to managing more campuses overseas.
DB: We are the only pathway provider that provides management of campuses to our existing partners. We’ve got Singapore with Curtin, we’ve got Dubai we’re about to start for Murdoch, we’ve got one here in Sri Lanka which is linked to ECU in Perth, we’ve got one in Sydney city centre for University of Western Sydney. And we’ve got one in Sydney for La Trobe Melbourne!
And we are looking further afield. One of the things I’m hearing from our partners is that they know they need to be more globally connected as an institution.
They are realising that they adapt to online provision and they are also realising that they need to be more globally connected. If you think about it Navitas and our network, that is a perfect opportunity for us.
“[Universities] are realising that they adapt to online provision and that they need to be more globally connected”
The PIE: Do you hire all the teaching staff and run the campus?
DB: Yes we do. In Singapore, for example, we recruit all the teachers. We set the programs with the help from Curtin and we have an on-site provost who manages the academic quality for us but, we run the campus for them.
The PIE: You think you might see that more from Europe? From UK HEIs?
DB: Yeah… post-Brexit, if a UK university can’t attract as many international students and get that diversity in its own local institution, then they will show interest in doing that outside of the UK. Many of them are talking to us about that.