NITISH JAIN

Edtech in India | EDUCATION & RESEARCH | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Nitish Jain, President of SP Jain School of Global Management, about investment in online learning, attracting international students, and the National Education Policy (NEP).

How have your early investments on online learning—particularly your engaged learning online (ELO) platform—prepared SP Jain for the current educational landscape?

About two years ago, we identified adult retraining as one of the fastest growing segments in the field of education. Many jobs are being disrupted because of technology, and adults who do not have the time to physically go to a campus would prefer online education. We decided to provide a learning experience that is close to a physical classroom experience without the need for a classroom, for which there is a big market. We invested heavily in developing this technology and over time refined this ELO technology to what it is today, which is an exact replica of the classroom.

How has COVID-19 impacted demand on this platform?

In March 2020, we had four ELO studios: two in Mumbai and one each in Dubai and Sydney. Since March, we have added two more studios, one in Singapore and a second in Dubai, and we plan to add another in Singapore and a second in Sydney later this year. We could expand to other places as well. These platforms are getting so busy that we need to constantly expand the number of rooms. When we have these rooms in these different cities, it means we can use the facilities based in these cities but they can teach to a global audience.

How has the success of the ELO platform changed your strategy to reach international students?

The number-one program that we use this for is something that we call Executive MBA, a part-time online program for working adults. This EMBA engages students as though they are in a classroom and they are doing an EMBA degree from SP Jain. We are looking at geographical expansion in a massive way. Our home market India was previously Mumbai because the campus was based in Mumbai. From Mumbai, we expanded into Delhi, Bangalore, and Hyderabad; however, we are now going right into the interior towns of India because there is no other business school there. Now, the same thing applies to all Gulf countries. The model revolves around expanding geographically. We call it global EMBA (GEMBA). We have students from many different countries all sharing the same classroom, thereby enhancing the learning experience. All of them receive the same learning experience as though the professor is teaching them live in a classroom. Because we have these studios around four cities, we can actually choose the best professor to teach this digital marketing course. It gives us a great deal of flexibility in choosing the right faculty and engaging students in this fashion, which is why we see six-fold growth for online EMBA compared to last year. While many other universities are struggling because of COVID-19 and seeing a decline in the number of students, we see growth because of our technological edge.

How will the National Education Policy (NEP) and its greater acceptance of online learning at the higher education level impact educational institutions such as SP Jain?

NEP at least signals that the government is interested in the edtech sector and online learning, because in the last two decades or longer, nothing had been updated, and education needs to be updated every year. The government has not gone all the way, however, because it believes education is a service, and educational institutions should be not-for-profit. It is still hindering massive investment into the education sector in India. I do not see leading universities from around the world coming to India even though it is a massive market because they might feel their hands would be tied behind their backs. India is not a Scandinavian country, where the government can fully fund education; a more appropriate model would be Brazil or Malaysia, where around three-quarters of universities are private and for profit. Education, like any other industry, requires investment, and businesses put in investment when there is a profit motive.

What is your long-term vision for implementing technological solutions at SP Jain?

At our school, we believe there is another factor even more compelling than the pandemic, and that is the rise of technology and AI. The growth of technology and AI is a bigger threat to conventional education, and many people do not get that. SP Jain is investing heavily to develop the future of education because it will be led by robotics and AI. We are focusing on making SP Jain an AI-led business school as opposed to just a business school. We are investing in things like how AI can determine how we select students, how we detect students at risk 10 days into the program and not just before the exams to give them the support they need in a timely way, how we can start with tutorials done by bots and not humans, because a bot can teach students at 3am in the morning if they want or on a Sunday afternoon, and so on. If we make such investments quicker than other universities, students will then come to where there is better quality of service and at a lower price. Fortunately, we have a fantastic IT team as well as a faculty that continues to come up with new ideas, and we are fortunate to have these talented people.