IT Voice-: How has TPL evolved during the pandemic?
Mr. Anish Srikrishna:-TPL is an established education company that is committed to fulfilling our learners’ needs. In the pre-pandemic period, we did this via a hybrid model of learning and teaching involving both face-to-face and tech-enabled teaching and learning. During the last 12 months’ enforced lockdown, we had to quickly adapt the cohort learning model to a completely online teaching model. There was also an acceleration of our overall digital transformation efforts and this, in turn, had a salutary effect across the company’s operations. Today, we have a situation where our sales, marketing, operations, teachers, and content creators work seamlessly from their homes. We collaborate through various online platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, modern LMS for our students, and so on. Life has changed for all of our 300+ employees at TPL, and I would say it has changed predominantly for the better.
IT Voice-:How do you see the EdTech sector in India in 2021 and ahead?
Mr. Anish Srikrishna:-I don’t look at the EdTech sector as one homogenous entity; rather, I see the edtech developments in each education segment as a reflection of the developments in the broader education scenario. For instance, take a look at the regulatory environment – there are fundamental differences in K-12, Higher Education, Vocational Education, and Executive Education. Today, most EdTech innovations in the K-12 space are taking place in the non-regulated area of supplementary tuitions and test prep and not so much in core areas.
In the higher education space, we now expect to see more activity around regulated programs in the wake of the NEP. One significant development during the lockdown has been the government granting permission to certain universities and colleges to offer their degree programmes online. This action will bring access and affordability to the way higher education is taught and consumed across the country.
The great barrier of enrolling into a physical university, paying high fees and committing 3-4 years of life to a degree program can now be brought down. In the online mode, an aspiring student from any corner of the country can enrol for a degree at an affordable price and learn from the convenience of her home while also being able to work and earn a living. This would open the path for them to become skilled and employable, as a degree is pretty much a passport to any white-collar job.
EdTech players could partner with the universities to expand reach and offer a tech-enabled learning environment. If this kind of partnership is executed well, it could significantly impact our very low Higher Education GER (Gross Enrolment Ratio) and will consequently have a positive impact on white-collar employability.
So, if you look at it, the ability to offer programmes online through readily available devices, such as mobile phones, will have a huge fillip on GER, employability and overall can prove to be a mighty social mover for the country. The time has come for good quality programs to be taught online and students allowed to earn degrees at an affordable cost.
When I look at the executive or vocational learning segments, these are the semi-regulated sectors and essentially attract the professionals looking to upskill themselves. These segments are far more aligned to an online learning environment and have seen extraordinary growth during the pandemic. I believe this will continue in the post-pandemic scenario also as a prominent global macro trend!
IT Voice-:Could remote learning increases the number of people in education globally? Does it impact the quality of people?
Mr. Anish Srikrishna:-The answer to the first question is obviously a big yes! From Latin America to China, Africa to Asia, there has been a significant increase in the number of people earning their first degrees online. And they are doing so with the mix of live learning, recorded learning, and various technology systems to enable assessments.
Now coming to the second question, that of quality. We have a global crisis of quality in traditional Higher Education. On the one hand, the top 5% of colleges and universities regulate input quality by having strict gating criteria and thereby securing employability outcomes for their students in the future. As one goes down the rankings, there is a sharp dip in the quality of teaching and learning which results in poor learning outcomes and consequently, low employability numbers.
In India, the most quoted statistics state that only 25% of graduating engineers are employable, which has been the case for almost 5 to 6 years. With India producing over 8 lakh engineers per annum, this 75% becomes a compounding number that keeps adding year-on-year, eventually contributing to the unemployment problem. Therefore, I think it is not pertinent to view quality as something exclusive to the online phase; indeed, we need to be concerned about the overall quality not only in India but globally!
I prefer to look at the online medium as a means of expanding access to quality faculty who are scarce and expensive. What if we could pool faculty across several universities and offer customized degree programmes for specific industry needs? We could offer great programmes that are translated or dubbed into local languages, enabling better comprehension, and earn their degrees without English as a barrier. Edtech companies could play an important part in this new frontier as tech enablers, marketing force multipliers, and content service providers to the traditional system.
Today, even if you look at premium institutes like the IIMs or the IITs, one of their most critical strategic thrust areas is expanding the student base via continuous educational programmes. They use online mediums and online programme managers such as TSW and TimesPro to get to the requisite target audience. The Edtech world is certainly part of the solution if the players can keep the basic tenet of learner outcomes as their mantra in learning. Skill is where the future is!
IT Voice-: What can we hope to see from TPL in the future?
Mr. Anish Srikrishna:-TPL is today one of the most recognisable players in the online and EdTech space. Today if you look at the number of IIM or IIT partnerships that TPL has under both TSW and TimesPro (two B2C brands of TPL), you will sense that we are already a strong name to reckon with.
We are aiming to be a much more proactive partner to universities and industry. There is a palpable need to bridge industry talent needs and university curricula. TPL’s expertise in content creation, curation and management coupled with its strong online sales, corporate sales, online marketing, student management and career services… makes us a potent partner to an institute seeking to break out into the online education space.
Accordingly, TPL will seek to expand our partnerships to include top NIRF ranked institutes.
IT Voice-: Most EdTech companies are losing money. How is TPL doing financially?
Mr. Anish Srikrishna :-Players in the EdTech space have invested in building brands and building a stickiness with their consumers and partners. TPL had its fair share of investment in marketing as well as content and business development. However, what makes TPL different is its approach towards business. We believe that being sustainable is more important than being visible in the long run. We have inherited the heritage and ethos of the most prominent parent brand – The Times of India Group.
Our brands TimesPro and TSW are recognised widely amongst our target audience and we work with very sensible and pragmatic business plans. Each of our business units is highly empowered and look at their business primarily from a student success standpoint. We believe that this has driven our efficiency and ability to keep things real and tight. As a result, we have been profitable for the last two years in a row. We are probably amongst a very small subset of profitable EdTech companies.
IT Voice-: From an investment point of view, the EdTech space is seeing a lot of investments. Is this sustainable in the long run? Does TPL have any disinvestment plans?
Mr. Anish Srikrishna:-Investment in the EdTech space is definitely sustainable; as you know, the market capitalisation in education is still way below the market cap of similar service industries. Due to many regulatory and other restrictions, private investment in this space has not necessarily been in the for-profit domain. Especially in the unregulated areas, the market has seen the ability to scale. As I have explained before, there are vast underserved markets in each segment, all the way from K12 to higher education to executive and professional learning. There are enormous, underserved opportunities that EdTech companies are confident of exploring. I think the degree education market opening will be an exciting phenomenon that we will see playing out over the next decade or so. So, the phenomenon of venture investment, private equity capital, and other forms of capital coming into EdTech is welcome and is likely to sustain itself. We might see a shift in activity from the K12 to higher education and the professional domains in the coming years. That will be because of the kind of regulatory movements taking place in the online degree space. Certainly, TPL will be at the forefront of this kind of activities, and we will be one of the top companies that will benefit from the overall investor interest in the space.
IT Voice-: The pandemic has been tough on businesses globally. Has it adversely affected your company too? How would you cope with it?
Mr. Anish Srikrishna:-During the pandemic, we took the opportunity to fundamentally recast several aspects of our business – this has made us more efficient while ensuring that our learner outcomes remain our top priority. We have cut many costs related to infrastructure and related items which have now been hardcoded into our plans. As a result, our financial performance has improved dramatically, and we have been able to report double profitability compared to what we had reported in the previous fiscal year. IN a sense, the pandemic has improved our efficiency and thus delivered a better financial result for the company. We believe that this kind of efficiency is sustainable as we build out the future of learning with TPL.