Published: 14th February 2018
Have a job dear to your heart, but still dreaming of PG? Up your game with UpGrad
UpGrad, an online learning platform that offers courses in association with Cambridge, MICA and more
We walked into Taj Banjara, located in the upmarket locality of Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, armed with a battery of questions for Mayank Kumar and Ronnie Screwvala, the co-founders of UpGrad, an online education platform for working professionals that was started in 2015. UpGrad offers an array of courses like an executive programme in Strategic Digital Marketing in collaboration with the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, a PG certification in Digital Marketing and Communication in association with MICA and several more. And while the courses have academic support, the platform balances the equation by bringing in industry experts as well — from Google to Microsoft and more — who bring in the on-field learning. Thus, offering the best programmes for those who don't have time to go back to school.
After exchanging pleasantries, we plunge right into the topic of EdTech start-ups, what makes UpGrad different from Coursera, Udacity and other such platforms in the same space and what UpGrad has done to up its game. Excerpts:
What do you think about the online education space and where does UpGrad fit in?
Mayank Kumar: For every 100 students who take up a programme on Coursera or Swayam, only five end up completing it and most people pursue this programme with an attitude of, "Chalo kuch karne ki nahi hain. (Let's do something.)”
What MBA did for the 90s, where everyone who opted for an MBA got a good salary, we are seeing that happen in the online space, where people are getting a considerable increase in their salary after pursuing a course online
Mayank Kumar, co-founder, UpGrad
Online content has always been about making the content more accessible, but you could have learnt the same topics from a book too. So, that's the big difference between online content and online education? What you see on Swayam is making content more accessible. When you opt for ‘education’, a mentor and a teacher need to be there, and a certain feedback system needs to be there. That's what we are doing. Our programmes are priced at about `2 lakh and people pay for it because they see this as education rather than just access to content. And after completing our programmes, one can find new jobs easily.
Education has been the next big thing for so many years now. When the radio came, they said that education would change; when the television came, they said that education would change; even when the internet came, they said that it would change, yet you still study in the same manner. But with the internet, there is a difference. If you believe that the internet is there only to make content more accessible, then nothing will change. If you believe that the internet is there to make the experience different and unique, then education will change significantly. Education is far beyond content.
UpGrad has been conducting a Data Career Roadshow, a summit for data aspirants, from January 6, 2018. The last day is on February 18, 2018
What makes UpGrad different from every other platform out there?
MK: We work closely with both industry and university because both are important. It is when they come together that education falls into place. There is also a lot of care that our platform extends. If you don't log onto the platform, we will call you up and ask you if there is a problem and if we can assist. So, unlike elsewhere, where you pay for your programme and the provider will say, "Okay, study on your own now," we care, which is why we have infused our programme with several industry-academy partnerships, handholding and a fair amount of interactivity, which are the key differentiators that make us different from others.
One of the challenges of an online platform is credibility. How does UpGrad tackle this?
Ronnie Screwvala: It's a slow build, but the real question is at what pace and at what tempo is it growing and that, for us, is very satisfying. Credibility is a problem in the eyes of many. First comes in your own credibility — 'Am I really going to learn?’ — because it's a very different discipline when you are not going to a place to study and you do not have the peer pressure. Second, it's about family, who might not really be sure of what you are doing. And the third and most important is the employer.
UpGrad is for working professionals who are on a certain level and have their base knowledge in place already
Ronnie Screwvala, co-founder, UpGrad
So why we think that we are not just catching up with Coursera and Udacity, but in fact, are three steps ahead in some form, especially in the Indian market, is the element of service. They come from an environment where technology is a given and so is bandwidth, and they don't have the concept of 'What's it going to cost me?'.
Another strong differentiator between the US and India is the socio-economic reasons for why people get into jobs. In a competitive environment like the US, you need to have a certain number of degrees, not just a UG or graduation. But here, you are already in that system. So, how do you get out of it without taking a year or a two-year pay cut or without worrying about not getting a job again or not being able to provide enough for your family.
The tech platform UpGrad ensures that there is a fair amount of interactivity that is constantly happening and the students remain engaged throughout their course
Could you tell us a little about your programmes?
MK: Every function that exists in the current form is going to change because of data and digital. Like the way we do journalism today is going to be different from the way we do it tomorrow. Even coding, sales marketing, business management — all our programmes are in the mainstream subject areas, but with a twist as to what will be relevant tomorrow. So, we start by looking at a role and ask if this role is relevant today and where it will be tomorrow. That's where the industry and academia partnership comes in handy because the industry tells us that these are the guys that are doing this, but tomorrow it will be obsolete and something else will be relevant. Then we talk to the university and create a programme of that calibre.
What are UpGrad Xchange centres?
RS: We are very clear that the entire learning is going to be online and that cannot be compromised, otherwise we can't scale up and the learning cannot be split. However, we do know that touch and feel is an important aspect along with a sense of comradeship, teamwork, study groups and alumni. All this is where the UpGrad Xchange Center comes in. So for us, the Xchange Center is a touchpoint when you take up the course and forever stay a part of UpGrad. Because the next time you might feel the need to upgrade will only be after three to four years, and thus, that touchpoint is important. This also helps with credibility building.
MK: We have an Xchange centre in Mumbai, Bengaluru and have a third one coming up at Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad because 20-25% of our programme takers come from Hyderabad and these centres are for them to experience and catch up with the study work. So, these are features to supplement their education and not to replace what is being done online. UpGrad Talks is also along the same lines
Two to go: UpGrad was started by Mayank Kumar and Ronnie Screwvala in 2015
What are some new courses that might come up on UpGrad in the near future?
MK: Right now, we have many different courses and for online, there is no 'academic year'. In fact, all our courses start every two months, so there is no concept of the July-August period. When it comes to the new programmes, we are looking at programmes in the domain of cybersecurity, robotics and IoT as these are areas we see further scope of employability. Finance and accounting to need to be brought up to speed with Bitcoin, cryptocurrency and more.
Any international expansion plans?
MK: We have hired in Singapore for our outpost, which starts this month. Internationally, we are setting up outposts so that in the future we know how to scale up. But right now we are focused on our business in India because the opportunity is enormous. People in the IT sector are already worried about jobs and are wondering about what's new, how do they upskill and more.
Check UpGrad out by visiting upgrad.com