upGrad is nearing its 6th anniversary. How has been the journey so far?
The journey has been very rewarding for upGrad. We have witnessed tremendous growth not just as an edtech company but also in the overall online education sector in general. We can proudly say that we have managed to make a mark in the edtech sector with our relentless pursuit to bring education to every part of the country from every part of the world. We take pride in being recognized as the trusted Lifelong Learning partner for driving meaningful career outcomes. We have grown 100% in the last 9 months from the start of the financial year and are targeting INR 2500 crore Revenue run-rate for FY’22. Till March 2020, we had 500K learners on our platform and within three quarters we doubled the number to reach 1 million. With this momentum and its growth plans, upGrad forecasts impacting the careers of the next one million youth & working professionals within the next 18 months.
Could you please give us a brief overview of the Indian online education sector and its growth potential?
According to a report by ResearchAndMarkets.com, in 2018, the online education market in India was valued at INR 39 billion. The report has also forecast an INR 360.3 billion turnover by 2024. With online education’s feasibility in terms of easy learning, flexibility, availability of a wide range of study material have all influenced the overall growth of the sector. Earlier, lack of formal recognition and accreditation were concerning but with foreign institutional tie-ups that many edtech companies are undertaking, upGrad included, the scope for more students and learners to resort to online education is high. In fact, besides degree courses, the online test prep market is also expected to rise and bring a turnover of INR 94.75 billion by 2024. The career-focused population of India, enhanced with the ever-expanding internet infrastructure and digital India movement, is expected to make the country one of the fastest-growing in the online education market.
What are your policies to compete with competitors?
Predominantly, our platform caters to higher education online programs and degrees. We have tie-ups with several top Indian and international universities to further our vision of making education accessible to all across the country and beyond. Hence, by keeping our focus towards a certain segment of the learners’ demography, we aim to enhance our brand in the same. Along similar lines, we have also initiated several skill-enhancing programs, which is a need of the hour, to provide learners with the right guidance to bolster their professional profiles. Recently we have also expanded our wings to cater to the INR 400 Billion Government job-entrance exam market by rebranding our 100% subsidiary, The Gate Academy (TGA) as ‘upGrad Jeet’ and launching a new business solution. Here, our focus is to prepare students and provide online classes worth 18,000 hours in English and Hindi for Tier 2 and 3 cities with students aiming to excel in the government-based entrance tests for government jobs. The same actually aligns with our Rural India penetration strategy in making Bharat employable.
How did the tie-ups with top-notch universities help upGrad to make a meaningful impact in improving outcomes in online education?
Tie-ups with top universities and educational institutions have benefited our learners tremendously. The online education trend during the pandemic resulted in many venerated universities to adopt e-learning and sought edtech companies as platforms to drive their courses and degrees. In fact, in 2020, graduated a batch of 2859 learners, which marked IIIT Bangalore’s largest convocation, in the history of 21 years and perhaps India’s largest convocation for any online course. The batch included learners of Post-Graduate Programs in Data Science, Machine Learning (ML) & Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Software Development/Blockchain. This milestone event was followed by an online Valedictorian Ceremony, which was conducted in association with MICA to celebrate the completion of the PG Certification in Digital Marketing and Communications course for over 1290 learners.
Moreover, in 2020, online education had also received acceptance from corporates across the board. Over 450 companies have hired 1200+ learners from our talent pool at an average salary hike of 46%, beating the industry benchmark of 20-30%. Such numbers bear testimony to our robust content pedagogy and delivery infrastructure and have helped upGrad establish its position as the leader in the Indian online higher education system.
How can technology help bring positive changes to online education field?
Technology in the classroom is a very debatable subject. Educators are divided in the stance as some vouch for traditional classroom education while some believe in the growth and benefits of an online classroom. No doubt, technology’s role in online education, especially during the pandemic, has opened new avenues of opportunities for learners and educators. The digitally-driven country is on a path to enhance its infrastructure to accommodate better technology that would enhance the education sector too. With the penetration of technology in Tier 2 and 3 cities of India and the records suggesting the growth in digital users from these segments, for education to reach these places would be easier. It is a very powerful tool that can help lay the groundwork for skilled professionals from all walks of life with multitudes of online resources, improvement in course structure, better reach, and more. This is where companies like upGrad who have invested heavily in creating a robust tech platform over the years with an investment to the tune of INR 100 crores, comes to the forefront.
In 2020, we enabled over 100 universities and colleges, including MHRD’s NIRF Top 100 universities to use our tech proprietary platform upGrad Live to replicate their offline classes into the online space, thus streamlining the flow of uninterrupted education which got disrupted due to the strike of the pandemic. The tech platform supports multiple assessment formats like coding tests in its inbuilt coding console, quizzes, individual and group projects. Plagiarism checks and proctored exams allow for fair grading of assignments. Session analytics provided is an alternative to class monitoring in an offline setup. We enable our partner universities with the complete LMS (Learning Management System) which allows the transition to be seamless. Thus, we can say that technology is the backbone of upGrad and we operate in an industry (edtech), where technology drives and scales education.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the fastest-ever shift of education and examination to the online platforms. How upGrad, as a key player in online education, see into this?
The pandemic definitely changed the landscape of education in India. Online learning has become the new norm for students and learners to educate themselves. While the graph was growing towards a successful stint for online education, the pandemic only sped fast the whole process. This is further indicated in KPMG’s report, which states that a 30% growth has been witnessed in the time spent on education since the lockdown, which is a testimony to the sharp rise in the demand for online education. Most edtech players have benefitted from the same as the number of sign-ups and learners have increased.
Our recent reports from Q2 show that our online programs like PG Diploma in Data Science, PG Certification in Digital Marketing and Communication, and PG Diploma in Machine Learning & AI have received the highest demand on the platform. Not only, we are moving strongly in metros, but also in non-metros like Lucknow, Patna, Indore, Jaipur, and Bhubaneswar are the ones from where we have been noticing an increased intent for our online programs. These cities as compared to the previous quarter, in Q2 (October-November-December), have shown 40%, 41%, 48%, 27%, & 51% higher interests, respectively. Also, other top cities from where we have been receiving interest and had remained steady over the months include Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. With the way things are going, there is surely more expected of edtech in the education sphere.
Do you think online education will take over the conventional education system in the Post-COVID era? What transformations are necessary for traditional academic institutions to remain competitive?
Although online education was a forced and necessary initiative taken up by schools and universities, the same has been a boon to the edtech sector. Looking at the ongoing trends, I believe that a lot of the processes and operations that were happening offline will move to online and we can expect a much more nuanced blended model on learning. Such a blended mode of operations will actually work in the favor of both, offline and online learning methods, as it shall help enhance the end results of imparting knowledge.
May we have your comment on the recent Union Budget?
Specific instances from the Budget 2021-22 centered on the education sector have been quite encouraging. Following the pandemic, the importance of enhancing professional skills to stay relevant in the job sphere has become rather essential. For the same, the government’s plans to implement the Higher Education Commission of India with an umbrella body for standard-setting, accreditation, regulation, and funding is a significant move added to the Budget 2021-22. Adding to the movement, the government’s proposition to amend the Apprenticeship Act with a budget allocation of 3,000 crores set aside for the existing scheme of The National Apprenticeship Training Scheme (NATS) to provide ample apprenticeship opportunities for the country’s youth is also a great initiative. As part of NEP, academic collaborations with foreign higher educational institutions to regulate and permit dual degrees, joint degrees, and other such mechanisms are also being incorporated. This is a remarkable move by the government to promote academics and skilling. This also aligns with upGrad’s vision where we aim to enable offline institutions to provide online degrees, leveraging our digital capabilities. It also furthers our partnership with foreign institutions, faculty, and industry experts to offer a global perspective in the education we offer to our learners.
Hon’ble Finance Minister’s announcement of a partnership with the United Arab Emirates to benchmark skill qualifications, certification, and assessment is a very noteworthy move. It complements upGrad’s goal of deploying a certified workforce and giving learners a seamless platform to do the same. The collaborative Training Inter Training Programme (TITP) between India and Japan is a promising move as it gives students a chance at learning vocational skills, techniques and enhances knowledge from the Japanese industries. Setting up a National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR) under NEP to further propel the initiative of Digital First Mindset is also quite reassuring as it opens avenues to support teaching and learning activities at a grander scale with educational planning, governance, and other such activities to boost the education ecosystem.
What kind of growth are you looking at in the Indian EdTech market?
We, at upGrad are growing at 100% year-on-year and have also been witnessing the overall edtech growth which is growing at about 50-60% annually. The tremendous growth and development in the Indian edtech sector are only going to scale up with time. The government has also planned to bolster the digital infrastructure which would further the edtech sector’s vision of making education accessible to every nook and corner of the country. According to a report shared by Researchandmarkets.com, India’s online education market is speculated to be valued at $8.6 billion by 2026. With rural India contributing to more number of internet users as opposed to urban India, the chances of reshaping the education sector in the country are quite promising and looking at an upward trend.
What would be your ideal vision for education in 2030?
India is predominantly a young population with thriving career-driven students and learners. According to Research and Markets, the online education market, which was valued at INR 5.01 billion in 2018 is now speculated to reach approximately INR 40.63 billion by 2024. The main reason for the online education sector’s exorbitant growth rate can be credited to the insufficient nuances of the conventional education system. The numbers of the growing population switching to online education is expanding, especially for higher education courses. Having noticed this upward trend and with upGrad’s main focus in higher education degrees and certification programs, we see a bright future for the company in the coming years, with a strong online and offline combination which will further propel greater access, better affordability, and a much better quality career outcome/s.