Coursera: “Our mission is to transform lives by democratizing higher education”

With an aim to transforming lives by democratizing access to best possible higher education – Coursera is looking forward to strengthening its operations in India and offer its unique value proposition to the student communities. 

Zia Askari from speaks with Arunav Sinha, Head of Global Communications at Coursera about the company’s current focus and its future plans for India.

What are the key priorities for Coursera today?

Our mission is to transform lives by democratizing access to the best possible higher education world has to offer. Coursera has been right at the forefront of this movement, making it possible for millions worldwide to transform their lives with courses, Specializations and degrees from the best universities.

India too is witnessing a big shift to online education. With more than 1.8m learners, today India is the second largest learner base for Coursera. With continued focus on improving our technology platform, we are committed to providing an outstanding experience for our learners everywhere.

How does the company want to expand its operations in India?

The Indian online education market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 19.05% during the period 2016-2020 as reported by Technavio. India with such a massive potential, is a very important market for us – the second largest in terms of both learners (1.8m) and revenue after the US.

The launch of Coursera for Business was a big step towards expanding our learner community in India. We have signed up a number of customers in India, including Axis Bank, Manipal Global, and leading IT/tech companies. Globally, we have customers including BCG, BNY Mellon and L’Oréal.

To what extent does Coursera utilize technology today? What are some of the innovations that the company is likely to bring through its platform?

Scale is a decisive measure of our approach towards developing a world-class online learning platform. We are a flexible and ever growing platform that supports learners across a number of learning objectives and needs. We have successfully extended our offering from courses to  Specializations and to degrees, largely possible because of a platform that allows us to innovate with speed. We are applying science and machine learning to advance our ‘understanding of content’ to build personalized discovery and content recommendations much like a career counselor.

For countries like India, where network speeds are often slow and data is expensive, our team has worked hard to build a heterogeneous data-fetching framework to support a seamless online/offline experience. Learners can download videos and watch at any time without an internet connection. We also offer an audio mode, which allows learners to listen to the content without draining their phone’s battery. This is a popular mode for commuters.

Coursera offers hundreds of courses in computer science from world-leading experts at top universities. We recently introduced a feature that allows instructors to seamlessly integrate coding assignments in the Coursera browser in any language enabling learners to practice coding without the hassle of downloading IDEs, data sets, starter code, runtimes etc.

Committed to our philosophy of making education accessible to everyone, we have invested heavily in mobile ensuring that people from all walks of life are able to learn on computer and mobile phones alike. 96% of all our courses can be completed entirely on the mobile app.

How cost effective are your courses Vis a Vis the options that students have today? What are some of the big advantages that Coursera has to offer in India?

The cost of accessing higher education has been one of the biggest challenges people encounter. And by democratizing the access, we are enabling people to transform their life through education.

Coursera offers incredible access to high quality learning content at very little to no cost. Anyone can audit most of our courses for free. In order to do assessments and earn certification, learners must pay a minimal fee or apply for financial aid.

The cost is a fraction of what a traditional university will charge for the same course. With our Specialization subscriptions – a new payment model – one can now subscribe to Specializations on Coursera for a monthly fee rather than paying up front for an entire course or Specialization.  You pay for the time you actually spend learning.

As reported in British Council Report 2014, India has a low rate of enrollment in higher education, at only 18%, compared with 26% in China and 36% in Brazil. The supply and demand gap that exists in India can be bridged by education-focused technology companies such as Coursera.

What kind of growth are you looking at from India’s perspective? Where is this growth likely to come from?

In a very short period, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of Indian learners enrolling  on the Coursera platform. Between 2014 and 2015, the learner base grew by 70%, and in 2016 it was up by 50%, making India the largest market for Coursera outside the US with 1.8 million users.

The most active learners in India are entrepreneurial, young professionals in their 20s and 30s aiming to gain technical skills. By 2020, India will have one of the youngest populations in the world, with an average age of 29 years. This population will be a driving force for the future growth of online education in India.

Technology courses attract the utmost interest in India. In 2016, 70%  of the 10 most popular courses were from Technology domain, followed by courses teaching English for career advancement. As compared to 2015, Coursera has seen a 50% increase in the number of registered learners, especially amongst technology learners.

Please share with us some of the key educational partners in India?

In India, Coursera has partnered with  the Indian School of Business (ISB). This partnership offers two Specializations: Business Technology Management for professionals in IT functions and the IT industry, and Trading Strategies in Emerging Markets for beginners in the financial market sector. Beside these two Specializations, we also offer courses such as A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, and Portfolio and Risk Management.