E-learning crucial for universities’ survival

When education technology company Coursera filed its initial public offer (IPO) last year with a valuation of Sh250 billion, it signified something; the era for online education business had arrived.

Thanks to Covid-19, the unexpected tailwind accelerated online learning making it more widespread. According to its prospectus, by 2020, Coursera had over 12,000 new degrees added on its platform but it also offered a variety of education certificates and professional skills courses that range in cost from as low as Sh1,000 to Sh 10,000.

It further boasted partnerships with over 330 government agencies across 70 countries and 30 US states and cities, helping governments offer unemployed workers free access to thousands of courses.

For a company that's been in existence since 2012, I must admit that’s one massive growth. I couldn’t help but unpack a few lessons.

One; the future is online. Cousera is leveraging its platform tapping the rising demand for online courses through partnerships with educational partners. But way before Coursera, there was the granddaddy; the University of Phoenix. The university started online classes in 1989, long before it was fashionable.

Within five years of going public, the school had more than 100,000 students with the majority taking online courses. Enrollment was growing by more than 25 percent a year. Seeing the success of the university, several other for-profit colleges went public during the 1990s, too.

The University of Phoenix and Coursera prove that higher education and online programmes could be big business.

Take home: adopt partnerships and expand your online reach. Two; the future is data. Coursera creatively uses its freemium version of its platform or free trials platform where learners engage with many offerings.

After some time, once students have used the platform, its data-driven experience connects learners to courses, certificates, and degree programmes tailored to them through a personalised discovery and nurture system.

It's this ability to capture and grow its business (conversion from free subscriptions to paid subscriptions over time) that’s the game changer. I think it’s one of the smartest customer acquisition moves being implemented by an education provider. Take home: get data.

Three; the future is listed markets. It’s a fact that most local higher-education institutions are in dire financial straits. Lack of funds is probably the major reason why the number of public universities and campuses dropped from 204 in 2017 to 102 last year.

Collectively, the 102 Kenyan public universities and campuses posted a deficit of Sh6.2 billion in the year to June. To remedy this, a long-term funding sustainability strategy is needed to ensure universities survive in the new era.

To list is a viable route to be considered. A good example is the Grand Canyon University, which went from total financial distress to a thriving educational house when it became listed. T-ake home: try listing.

Education is big business but many educational institutions need to adapt to the new reality. Covid-19 has accelerated the need for online-delivered education. Cousera has blazed the trail. We can borrow a leaf.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.