Nilanjan Kar, President, Enterprise Business upGrad

The Indian education sector has seen a huge technology uptake in the past few years. From AI and ML to IoT and AR/VR, use cases across technology domains are finding a place in the edtech space. The Covid-19 pandemic has given a further impetus to this trend with even traditional universities and schools now exploring ICT. Nilanjan Kar, President, Enterprise Business upGrad, shares his their views on the key technology trends shaping the sector, the opportunities and challenges brought forth by Covid-19, and the way forward…

What role is ICT/digital playing in the education sector? What are some of the key technology trends shaping the sector?

Over the past few years, disruptions have resulted in the way customers consume products and services. The digital transformation and the ongoing working model disruption due to Covid have completely disrupted the learning ecosystem in India. The prevalent education landscape has been driven by brick-and-mortar models, which run on the premise of teacher-student relationships. The big issue with such models is that while they work in small groups, they are not scalable. In a country like India, where edtech penetration is low, as compared to many other developed countries, we need a scalable learning model that also delivers deep learning outcomes. As per industry estimates, the higher education level in 2012 stood at around 17 per cent for both India and China. In 2020, while India’s higher education penetration has moved up to 26 per cent, China’s has risen to 53 per cent.

With future technologies like data sciences, AI, ML, blockchain, product management and concepts like digital marketing and online MBA gaining a lot of acceptance, online learning will be instrumental in scaling up education by disrupting traditional models. Luckily, India is now embracing online education in a big way. Today, upGrad is a leading edtech player at the forefront of this offline to online transformation. In terms of the learner base, we have crossed the 500,000 mark recently with a 3.5x jump in the paid learner base year on year. Our 10k programme initiative has drawn interest from 100,000 learners over the past four to six weeks.

In a recent white paper launched by upGrad in collaboration with FICCI, and as part of our research conducted, 92 per cent of learning leaders have confirmed 80 per cent adoption of online learning during the Covid period, as compared to 68 per cent customers adopting 40 per cent digital learning in the pre-corona period.

What are the opportunities and challenges arising due to Covid-19 for edtech players and traditional educational institutions such as schools?

The biggest challenge that online education faced in India has been the mindset that learning cannot be done online. In the past few months we have seen that several schools have moved their entire ecosystem online overnight with zero drop in learning outcomes. Similarly, in the higher edtech space, we at upGrad have seen a surge in the overall uptake of our courses in the past two months. This is being driven by two things. One, the mindset is changing. Working professionals now have time at hand and are focusing on online learning. Two, companies are utilising this period, where employees are working from home, to upskill and reskill their workforce.

Going forward, how do you see the education space transforming in India? What will be the key drivers and elements? 

Given my interactions with key government and industry bodies such as the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), FICCI, NASSCOM, my overall sense is that this is the time for India to move the whole learning system to online as much as possible for school education, higher education and also for working professionals. Moreover, online learning platforms and designs are becoming highly personalised. For example, upGrad is not merely an online training provider, it integrates online training with human-assisted learning. In fact, going forward, human-assisted live online learning will drive a lot of change in the edtech space.