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Uber: Flexible earning meets flexible learning

Four years ago, Uber was looking for a way to expand its driver support. Uber approached The Open University (OU) to talk about creating a higher education offering as part of its loyalty programme that would give eligible drivers the opportunity to access fully funded education, either for themselves or a close family member.

What followed was a pioneering partnership with the OU, whereby drivers could ‘earn and learn’ at the same time. Through this programme, all drivers have access to courses on the OU’s free OpenLearn platform, with eligible drivers also receiving access to paid courses, fully sponsored by Uber. Those paid courses range from undergraduate degrees to short courses such as microcredentials.

Since those initial conversations in 2019, over 1,500 learners have enrolled on OU paid courses, with the first cohort of degree students recently graduating. “The programme’s been really successful,” says Jessica Phillips, Driver Experience Lead at Uber. “We’ve had over 1,500 drivers, couriers or family members studying so far and phenomenal feedback from everyone who has been involved.”

The need for flexibility

Uber has been operating in the UK for just over 10 years. Flexibility is core to the Uber ethos, which is also a core value of the OU. That’s why Uber reached out to the OU.

The flexible model that the OU runs, providing education and providing opportunities to develop skills was really appealing to us. We could provide something for our drivers which they can learn from and fit in around their driving and other commitments.

Sophie Carter
Head of Policy at Uber

A life-changing opportunity

It has also enhanced the learning and career opportunities for a large number of drivers from a diverse range of backgrounds. “I met a driver a couple of weeks ago up in Liverpool who is studying and he said it completely changed his life and that’s a really fantastic feeling,” says Jessica.

I met a driver a couple of weeks ago up in Liverpool who is studying and he said it completely changed his life and that’s a really fantastic feeling.

Jessica Phillips
Driver Experience Lead at Uber

For Mohammed Rashid, an Uber driver who came to the UK from Bangladesh, the OU-Uber partnership has enabled him to fulfil his dream of achieving a degree, while still working and earning money and supporting his family. He joined Uber after being made redundant at a supermarket company and on becoming a diamond driver he enrolled on computing degree with the OU. 

Going to university is a big dream,” he says. “I believe this is a very big gift from Uber to Uber drivers. I’m giving my family time and I’m studying and I’m working.

Mohammed says the ability to work online and the support from tutors has been invaluable and that he has been able to set up his own business using his new skills.

Uber’s driving population and subsequently their family members are a very diverse community. Something like 75% of Uber drivers are first generation migrants to the UK. Their educational background is varied, but quite often they have already gained significant qualifications in their birth country, but have been unable to utilise those qualifications in the UK

Simon Tindall
Director of Skills and Innovation at the OU

Nosheen Abbas is one such person. Her country of origin is Pakistan, where she gained a Masters in Business Administration and worked in a bank. She came to the UK in 2016 when she married her husband, an Uber driver, but discovered that her degree was not accepted in the UK.“When I came here I started from scratch at Sainsbury’s but was looking for a better opportunity.” When she heard about the Uber-OU offering, she enrolled on a BA Honours in Business Management, fitting it in around her work and family commitments. “Sponsoring family members was a golden opportunity for me.”

When she heard about the Uber-OU offering, she enrolled on a BA Honours in Business Management, fitting it in around her work and family commitments. 

Mohammed Irfan Chaudry also struggled to find appropriate work in the UK, despite having a BSc Honours from Pakistan. After working in retail management he took a job at Uber because of the flexible nature of the work. He didn’t have the funds to invest in further studying in the UK, so when he realised he could enrol on an undergraduate course as a diamond driver, he saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I can work around family, I can do jobs at home and then I can study at the same time. My degree will allow me to get into research work and I’ll be able to complete my aspirations. I think it’s very, very rewarding for drivers and it has had a great impact on the overall community of drivers.”

I can work around family, I can do jobs at home and then I can study at the same time. My degree will allow me to get into research work and I’ll be able to complete my aspirations. I think it’s very, very rewarding for drivers and it has had a great impact on the overall community of drivers.

Mohammed Irfan Chaudry
Uber driver

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