Open universities or distance learning courses are a well-known feature of the Indian education system. Even if they are not the most sought after institutions of learning, OUs have helped those students that are left out of the mainstream system to gain employability through distance learning students, non-traditional course structure and technical learning.
But that does not change the fact that a full-time graduate degree from a college is still what many employers look for in potential employees and prefer over distance learning course graduates. The idea that open universities and distance learning are inferior to the mainstream colleges is not just perception alone, it is also linked to learning outcomes. Whereas a college or university might have a network of faculties that help students make more informed choices, open universities are all about degrees.
“The learning outcomes for most of the open university courses are low, these students almost never get a job by virtue of online or distance education. A lot of students had not seen value in these open university degrees,” says Shantanu Rooj, founder of edtech startup Schoolguru Eduserve.
What could add this value is the right job experience alongside learning, which is what Schoolguru Eduserve is doing with its product WorkX. Envisioned as a two-way channel for students and companies, WorkX allows distance learning students to pursue an apprenticeship in parallel to their distance learning or online course. On the business side, the product is called a “people supply chain solution” to ease hurdles in fresher recruitment for companies — freshers are often untrained and unskilled despite the degrees, which WorkX is looking to solve.
Rooj recalled how in India, just a few years ago, just being a graduate and having a degree was good enough, but the situation is changing and employability is a challenge.
“Today 60% of the taxi drivers in Korea are graduates, 31% of the retail checkout clerks in the United States are graduates, and even in India, 15% of the hires in security guards are graduates. So getting a graduation degree today means nothing, unless students get a good return of investment on their time and money,” the Schoolguru founder told Inc42.
For this to happen, universities will have to become more outcome-driven, employability-driven, and provide real value to students. Schoolguru Eduserve aims to help universities get there.
Schoolguru’s Work-While-You-Learn Model
Students enrolled in online and distance education do not need to attend physical classrooms and hence they have the opportunity to take on additional training through WorkX. By the time the students get their degrees from the open university or distance learning, they would have also had a year’s work experience in parallel, which would better prepare them for the workplace life.
The on-job training through this apprenticeship provides hands-on experience to the students as they get to work on live projects with WorkX customers. Working in an office environment also helps students to grasp the required soft skills early on in their careers.
According to Rooj, the apprenticeship model also allows students to earn a monthly stipend of about INR 10K to INR 15K, enabling students to pursue any higher education plans. This holistic approach boosts the employability as well as the skillsets of students, who would otherwise not have the requisite soft skills to work in companies.
“This student will never have problems in terms of getting their first job, because they already know the job. This solves the employers’ problems too, who are worried about the low productivity level of a fresher because they don’t have work experience and do not know the job,” he added.
60K Apprentices Across 400 Companies
Founded by Rooj in 2012, Schoolguru Eduserve’s WorkX programme brings apprenticeship opportunities with about 350 large companies and SMEs across India including LG Electronics, Tech Mahindra, Bluestar, and Lupin Limited among others. The startup claims to have grown at a CAGR of more than 45% and expects to touch INR 45 Cr annual revenue in FY 2021. Recruitment giant TeamLease Services owns a majority 76% stake in the edtech startup, which makes Schoolguru a subsidiary of the publicly-listed TeamLease.
The TeamLease association certainly opens doors for Schoolguru to work with major companies across sectors, given the former’s massive presence in the recruitment market. Schoolguru’s apprentices work in banking, manufacturing, ecommerce, BFSI, pharmaceuticals and retail among other sectors — students generally also get placed in the same industries.
These part-time jobs include profiles such as front office managers, assembly line executives, sales officers, branch relationship executives for retail or BFSI sector, logistics coordinators, in-store associates, warehouse supervisors, admin executives, and desk staff, among others.
Schoolguru Eduserve claims to have about 400K learners on the platform and 60K apprentices working with about 400 employers. While Schoolguru Eduserve’s partnership with the corporates is free for any company to take, the edtech startup earns a percentage of the course fees, based on the number of services provided to the university or distance learning institute.
Schoolguru Eduserve claims to be working with 45 Indian universities including Kurushetra University, Madhya Pradesh (Bhoj) Open University, Subharti University, Aligarh Muslim University, Mizoram University and more.
Beyond WorkX And Open University Courses
In addition to WorkX, other university-related services offered by Schoolguru Eduserve include online assessments, online learning platform (Lumingo), content development, online assessment platform(Qurio), student helpdesk, alumni management (Optara) and placement assistance among others.
“Due to Covid-19, universities were non-operational and hence the enrollment process of our WorkX program was paused for a while. However, now that the universities have started accepting enrolments, we are seeing a huge demand for WorkX,” said the founder.
Post-Covid, several universities have approached Schoolguru Eduserve to incorporate WorkX model for their non-distance learning students as well. For instance, Kurukshetra University in Haryana has tied up with Schoolguru Eduserve to implement WorkX for all students and the college is even offering scholarships to students for enrolling with WorkX. Schoolguru Eduserve is also said to have signed an MOU with the Gujarat government to offer WorkX in all public colleges.