upGrad Aims To Bridge Rural-Urban Edtech Divide With Scholarships, Online University Degrees

upGrad Aims To Bridge Rural-Urban Edtech Divide With Scholarships, Online University Degrees


upGrad scholarships are eligible for Data Science and Full Stack Development courses

The company plans to offer degree courses from Indian universities

The edtech company’s gross revenue saw a jump of 113% in FY2019

One of the common criticisms of the Indian education sector, despite its excellent reach and ability to produce excellent results in some sections, is that it doesn’t prepare students for the challenges in the workspace. Accountants have to pick up new and modern SaaS tools when they enter the workforce. The India Skills Report 2019 found that about 50% of the job applicants in India either have very basic or no required skills for the job, which highlights the need to train individuals in the skills, techniques and technology that businesses are actually using today.

Online education platforms are everything these days and upGrad is one of the few companies building IP in this realm along with the likes of BYJU’s, Unacademy and others. The Mumbai-based startup is training young professionals and students in the domains that are seeing the most recruitment when it comes to technology. This includes as machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, big data engineering, data science, with courses being added as technologies are developed.

upGrad was cofounded in 2015 by Ronnie Screwvala, Mayank Kumar, Phalgun Kompalli and Ravijot Chugh to tap into the huge online education sector. College students and working professionals with two to 25 years of experience are part of upGrad’s target group Screwvala told Inc42 recently. And he believes that the online education sector is a big enough market for upGrad’s current growth phase.

Edtech Boom In India

The Indian edtech segment is expected to be a $1.96 Bn market by 2021. According to Inc42 Datalabs, there were 3,500 edtech startups in India in 2018. Between 2014 to 2018, 182 edtech startups were funded with a total of $1.34 Bn. Of this, about 77% was poured into just four edtech companies — BYJU’s, Toppr, Unacademy, and Vedantu.

upGrad may not have been on the list of startups with most funding in 2018, but it did make the headlines for acquiring job skilling platform Acadview for an undisclosed amount. With this acquisition, it looked to tap further into the education sector by getting access to 35 Mn college and institutions students across 50K higher education institutes, and more than 800 universities.

The edtech company also acqui-hired a Delhi-based SaaS platform Pyoopil Education Technologies, to enter the lucrative $1 Bn corporate training segment of India.  

The M&As came at a time when upGrad’s gross revenue (including taxes) jumped 113%. According to the company, its revenue went from INR 57 Cr in March 2018 to INR 121 Cr in March 2019. The company claims to have facilitated over 600 career transformations among its learners.

upGrad Scholarship For Top Quality Candidates

Screwvala said the 96% of this revenue growth is through the B2C vertical. This is primarily why the company is now targeting working professionals within organisations and have already partnered with companies like Infosys and Wipro. This will determine the next growth phase for upGrad.

Its latest initiative makes upGrad more affordable for the best candidates. The company has launched upGrad scholarship programs last month, similar to a conventional university or college. To begin with it has partnered with hospitality unicorn OYO Rooms to launch a scholarship programme for select courses.

Under the OYO-upGrad scholarship, students enrolled in full stack web development and data science career programs. The scholarship will shortlist 3K students for a 50% fee waiver along with an opportunity to intern with OYO or other companies during the course.

“For us, scholarships is to find deserving students because at the end of the day it is a little bit like if we want to be among the top two digital learning platforms in India, the quality of candidates we attract is also gonna be important,” Screwvala and Kumar told Inc42.

Kumar revealed that about 70-75% of upGrad learners are from Tier I cities, while about 10% of users come from outside India. These international learners are largely from English-speaking countries such as the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

upGrad scholarship is the company’s attempt to motivate those youngsters who may not have access to big colleges but also want to pursue higher education. The edtech company is solving the variation in quality education opportunity in rural India as compared to the urban markets.

Talking about where they see the upGrad scholarship program heading, the cofounders said they are looking at B2B customers to get batches of users. “We will also look at getting into the degrees space. We have already partnered with UK universities, but we will now look at offering graduate and postgraduate degrees with Indian universities.”

Upskilling The Indian Workforce

Things are changing in India when it comes to how young professionals or students approach training. Learning on the job or self-teaching is a large part of the Indian professional’s life, but things are changing because alternatives such as upGrad are making a difference. This has also made the education sector more vibrant. 

When upGrad started its journey in 2016, women enrolment was a meagre 9%. But the company has witnessed a significant growth in this respect, with the enrolment percentage reaching 24% in 2018. In this period, the company’s growth in enrolment for female candidates surpassed the growth for male candidates by a factor of 3.72X. That’s impressive growth in a country where equal education opportunity is still a pipe dream.

One reason for the rise in the enrolment of female candidates is the easy accessibility to courses, without having to venture out of home.

Kumar gave us the example of upGrad learner Manisha Verma Malhotra, who had wanted to pursue learning Big Data technologies, but had to pause the ambition because of her responsibilities as a new mother. Even though she worked as a freelancer from home for about four years, she still lacked the latest technical knowledge that companies look for in full-time candidates. With upGrad’s PG Program with BITS Pilani in Big Data, Malhotra was able to secure a job in the online education sector.

“30% of our students are looking for a job change and a higher position in their current organisation,” said Screwvala.

The most popular programs in upGrad’s portfolio are machine learning, data science and AI. This is followed by technology including full stack development and blockchain. Recently it started a one-month entrepreneurship course, which saw more than 2 Lakh candidates expressing intent to join. The edtech company also offers courses in management and digital marketing, which are popular with users looking to work in the digital economy.

It’s not just those looking to restart their careers. Another learner, Thulasiram Gunipathi had served as an engineer in Indian Navy. But towards the end of his tenure, he had to start considering future career moves. That was the time when data science caught his imagination. Gunipathi pursued upGrad’s PG Program with IIIT-B in data science. After completing the course, he was recruited by upGrad as content strategist for data science. He went on to join the Zee Group, where he is currently employed.

Differentiation Through Creation

One of the key differentiators for upGrad, according to  Screwvala, is its relationship with mentors. “Our foremost differentiator is mentorship — the very fact that we spend money on mentoring, while others find a course and put it online. Further, the mid-level differentiators are the tech platform, interactivity and content, all of which has been created from scratch by us.”

“We don’t aggregate content, and we don’t assemble. About 60-70% of the upGrad’s curriculum comes from lecturers or mentors who bring in their real-life experiences to the learners. Even professional universities can’t match that.” he added.

English being the language of commerce in India, the edtech company is focussing largely on English courses before moving on to regional languages.

The founders revealed plans to invest INR 100 Cr in marketing campaigns over the next few years. One of the primary goals of its messaging will be to get across the mentor-first approach to learning that upGrad has embraced; about how it’s not just about teaching them the lessons in the course, as Screwvala said. “Our approach is that people understand that upGrad is going to impact your career, your life, your  thinking — the overall way you present yourself. You should be noticed wherever you are, whether it is a meeting or conference.”

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