#5 Rules to Succeed as an Edupreneur
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This is an exciting and exacting time to be an Indian Edupreneur. Given our “youth bulge”, the demand for all levels of education is very large, while supply, especially quality supply, is relatively scarce. As a result, even as the world of work undergoes “creative destruction” at an unprecedented pace due to rapid technological advancements, the gap between industry requirements and students’ learning outcomes and skills, especially in higher education in India, remains vast and is not closing nearly fast enough. Recurrent newspaper headlines, with one recruiter after another describing the unemployability of our graduates, testify to this.
While the government works out macro-level policies to improve the regulation, incentives and public institutions in the sector, there exist, for the past couple of decades, avenues for Edupreneurs to play a major part in bridging this skills gap upon which our demographic dividend hinges. With over twelve years’ experience in establishing and growing higher education institutions teaching programmes ranging from economics, business and finance to fashion, interior and communication design, here are 5 key learnings, or pieces of advice.
- Partner with the best: Given the inadequacy of quality institutions and intellectual human capital in India, the surest and most efficient way to accord Indian students exposure to creative, cutting-edge and application-oriented curricula is to partner with leading international higher education institutions (HEIs). Both the ventures I’ve set up have adopted this collaborative model, with the foreign partners being world-leaders in their respective fields. This has helped in drawing in curricular expertise and developments, which are far ahead of the sector in India. It has also allowed for a transfer of best practices in teaching, learning, institution-building, assessment, feedback, student placements, faculty recruitment and development, and student engagement.
Besides, the collaboration allows students to receive a world-class education at a fraction of the cost (of going overseas), and also provides them with opportunities like stock exchange boot camps, industry visits, etc. From an economic standpoint too, it makes a lot of sense, as it creates jobs and builds capacity and skills among Indian youth.
- Focus on Processes: By collaborating with top global HEIs, this almost becomes unavoidable, because they follow a rigorous audit process to maintain the high standards of the collaboration, in order to maintain their hard-earned reputation. There is particular emphasis on processes to improve the student experience, by acting upon frequently gathered student feedback and constantly striving to improve the quality of programme delivery, through innovative practices such as peer review, peer tutoring and assessment review. Staff welfare is another beneficiary of processes which aim to ensure transparent and fair recruitment and appraisal, and a culture of training and development. The transfer of these processes, along with ongoing feedback on them from the foreign partner, help tremendously with building robust and resilient institutions.
- Invest in training of staff and faculty: If only to avoid the mistakes made by the Indian higher education system over the last several decades, investing in the quality of faculty members is vital for any HEI, for it has a direct bearing not just on student learning and career prospects, but also on student recruitment and institutional growth. This extends to training in both curricular areas as well as in pedagogy itself. Again on account of the legacy brought to the table by the foreign partners, this is an area of great thrust. Faculty members may be encouraged to undertake postgraduate courses in how to teach in higher education, which is unique in the Indian context and can also undergo regular training at the hands of faculty members from partner institutions, using a combination of virtual tools and physical sessions. Extending this practice to provide opportunities for professional growth to other staff members pay rich dividends in the form of increased productivity and improved employee retention.
- Develop a niche service by going beyond obvious programmes: As the job markets become more demanding, volatile and competitive, students increasingly opt for more specialised, vocational programmes of study at every level. At the same time, it remains true that students, especially undergraduate ones, are confused and want to keep their options open. This suggests that the institutions should try to offer a combination of unique, specialised courses (or course combinations, as the case may be), alongside more traditional ones which keep multiple career options viable for the student. Think fashion management or data science in the former bucket, and economics or business and management in the latter. This will increase the market size for your programmes and help you cater to a wider audience, while still drawing on economies of scale arising from the similarity of courses offered across related genres.
- Recruit students innovatively: With so much substance to offer, be sure to showcase it before prospective students. Students nowadays are bombarded by institutions trying to woo them, so instead, try to add value to them during your interaction, whether online or offline. This way, even if they do not respond to your “call to action” immediately, it is much likelier that they will remember your product for the right reasons whenever they’re ready to respond. Another piece of advice, especially with regard to online channels – it is always tempting to reach out to more and more prospective students, but almost certainly more efficient to understand one’s audience profile and target those prospects who present a greater likelihood of recruitment.
These are some of the key learnings I have acquired through my decade-plus experience in higher education, and I hope they will stand any budding Edupreneurs in good stead in the current market environment. However, it is always advisable to corroborate such inputs with one’s own research, not least so that you can apply them to your venture with greater conviction, and hopefully, contribute to pushing our great country towards the heights its demography promises to take it to.