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Cover Feature

Published on: July 25, 2022, 11:41 a.m.
Private Universities: Ready for unprecedented churning?
  • Will the NEP disturb the education system in the country?

By Ritwik Sinha. Consulting Editor, Business India

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made Varanasi his base (he has been representing the constituency for the past two terms), the ancient holy city now also seems to be doubling as a base to send the message of the government’s ambitious development agenda to the world. And this is precisely what happened at the three-day Akhil Bhartiya Shiksha Samagam conclave organised in Varanasi between 7–9 July by the Ministry of Education.

The largest conclave on higher education saw the participation of senior government functionaries at the Centre and the state as well as over 300 academic and institutional leaders from Universities (Central, State, Deemed, and Private), and Institutes of National Importance (IIT, IIM, NIT, IISER) deliberating the implementation strategy for the New Education Policy. Launched in the midst of the national lockdown in 2020, the policy will cause a paradigm shift in the Indian education system, making it more efficient and aligned with the changing technological environment.

It will also significantly improve the overall delivery system. The policy, in particular, has set high goals for higher education. The agenda includes doubling the gross enrolment ratio or GER (around 50 per cent) by 2030 and making India a global hub for education by the end of this decade. 

“The basic premise of the National Education Policy is to take education out of narrow thinking and connect it with the modern ideas of the 21st century. Our youth should be skilled, confident, practical and calculative, and the education policy is preparing the ground for this,” said Prime Minister Modi in his inaugural speech. “The National Education Policy has given us a tool to realise innumerable possibilities which were not available earlier. We need to use it fully.”

Later, speaking at the valedictory session, Dharmendra Pradhan, Union education minister further explained the game changing potential of the NEP. “We must bring in a transformative education system rooted in Indian values, thoughts and sense of service. The National Education Policy 2020 gives us the direction and path for decolonising our education and achieving aspirations, creating pride in our languages, culture and knowledge. The components of NEP such as multi-modal education, academic bank of credits, multiple entry-exit and skill development will prove to be milestones in the direction of student-first/teacher-led learning,” he elaborated.

Those who attended the samagam vouch that the government was sending the message that it was committed to carry through the grand vision of the policy. And that every important stakeholder would have to pull up his/her socks to make it possible. “The initiation of NEP clearly marks the admission of the fact that there is a serious problem with our existing education structure. When it comes to the higher education stream, there is the issue of its non-alignment with changing market dynamics. It is not preparing students for the future. Every stakeholder thus has quite a task in hand in the coming years,” points out Manit Jain, Immediate Past Chairman of FICCI Arise (a noted forum for education).

This obviously includes private sector-led colleges and universities which have now become an important pillar of the higher education sector. As an estimate suggests that 60 per cent of the enrolment in higher education is now happening in private institutes and their share is likely to improve as the enrolment ratio goes up further. A more critical issue would be significantly improving the qualitative aspect where the top tier institutes (with A and above accreditation from agencies like NAAC) will have a more crucial role.

Having positioned themselves as entities which are not part of the crowd, they will have a larger responsibility to contribute to creating a better higher educational regime in the country. “Though not generally realised, NEP 2020 is going to set afoot a massive disruption and adjustments to it will be easier said than done. This will be a sweeping trend, including the private sector players in higher education,” says Narayanan Ramaswamy, National Leader (Education & Skill Development), KPMG in India.

  • Modi at the Akhil Bhartiya Shiksha Samagam: bringing modern ideas to education

Critical pillar 

Statistics clearly explain the growing influence of the private institutes in the expanding higher education universe where volumes are adding up in unit-wise terms. As per an AISHE (All India Survey of Higher Education) report released in 2012-13, there were 667 universities, 35,525 colleges and 11,565 stand-alone institutions in the country. Out of this, 209 universities were privately managed. The total enrolment in higher education was estimated to be 30.2 million with 16.6 million boys and 13.6 million girls.

The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) had then stood at 21.5, (22.7 for males and for 20.1 for females).  However, the findings of AISHE 2019-20 underlined a remarkable improvement in institute volumes. It registered a total of 1,043 universities, 42,343 colleges and 11,779 stand-alone institutions. Out of these, 396 universities were privately managed. The total enrolment in higher education has been estimated to be 38.5 million with 19.6 million boys and 18.9 million girls.

Girls constitute 49 per cent of the total enrolment. Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education in India is 27.1 (26.9 for males and 27.3 for females). On an overall basis, the number of universities has gone up from 723 in 2013 to over 1,000 by the end of 2019-20 despite the closure of many private ones who could not adjust to the pressure of changing regulatory requirements or growing competition. 

“The growth of private universities has mostly happened in the last ten years. A critical element of promoting private universities was to pave the way for multi-disciplinary institutes and enhance capacity. Those who had managed to successfully establish private colleges after the implementation of the previous education policy in the 90s mostly took the plunge and graduated to set up universities,” says H Chaturvedi, Director, BIMTEC and Alternate President of Education Promotion Society for India (EPSI).

“Private universities came in because of lack of adequate capacity in quality public institutions. Private universities have matured significantly. A number of them are investing in becoming serious academic centres with a research focus. In fact, the dozen or so liberal education driven private institutions that have been set up in the last decade or so are trailblazers – they represent the future of higher education in India. They are serious institutions, they are rigorous, they have excellent faculty, they have innovative curricula, and they invest in research,” adds Pankaj Chandra, Vice Chancellor, Ahmedabad University.

Recent years have also seen the emergence and consolidation of an exclusive club which is claiming to be in the forefront of driving private university credentials on the qualitative front. Backed by accreditation from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council or NAAC, over 20 private universities have A or A plus and A plus above accreditation grading (the highest grading bracket) and they command a premier positioning in the marketplace. Some of them also have multiple accreditations from other grading agencies.

The other important accreditation agency in the country is The National Board of Accreditation (NBA) which functions under the aegis of AICTE and provides grading to technical programmes. NAAC, on the other hand, accredits general colleges and universities. “Accreditations are always a feather in the crown of universities. They facilitate and improve the processes of the universities and can make them compete in the global arena. NAAC is one such significant accreditation which will ensure that quality institutions contribute towards the education infrastructure of the country. It emphasises outcome-based learning leading to learning and  skill development in our graduates,” says Dr  Sujata Shahi, Vice-Chancellor, IILM University, Gurugram. 

  • None

    The One Year Global MBA in Business Analytics is all set to create a benchmark in the education sector with the involvement of the best industry practitioners and corporates

    Prof Mayank Dhaundiya, Dean, OP Jindal University

Sustaining leadership 

The growing influence of private colleges and institutes in the Indian higher education system has also been marked by a dubious perception that a substantial volume are just degree shops with little interest in quality deliverables. “For many of them in the past, improvement has often been equated with giving a rejig to their campus façade and physical infrastructure facilities even as they missed out on improving their faculty and enhancing the employability of their quotients,” Chaturvedi points out. 

But for those who are adhering to well recognised accreditation mechanism like NAAC (it grants accreditation on the basis of seven parameters – curricular aspects; teaching – learning and evaluation; research, innovations and extension; infrastructure and learning resources; student support and progression; governance, leadership and management; and institutional values and best practices), there seem to be different rules to stay in the game.

There are different cycles wherein the universities with basic accreditation or seeking accreditation have to go through and are graded by NAAC. “NAAC is a comprehensive accreditation process encompassing both qualitative and quantitative measures for all aspects of a student life cycle and the education/research programs of an institution. Going through the accreditation process, allows the institution to self-assess itself before an external assessment process. In our opinion, NAAC accreditation process does significantly contribute towards promoting quality higher education,” says Prakash Gopalan – Director, Thapar Institute of Engineering & Technology. 

The top tier accredited institutes claim to be setting afoot initiatives which put them in the leadership position. “We have added new interdisciplinary programs, value added courses, advanced research labs, more than 100 centres, new institutions offering arts, design, engineering, law, commerce and management education off-campus in Bengaluru, medical and allied programs off-campus at Jamshedpur apart from various student facilities like support centres, etc. Overall MAHE provides a very high quality of education along with world class student experience so that our students are prepared for roles as global citizens,” says Lt General (Dr) MD Venkatesh, Vice-Chancellor Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

According to the institute is swiftly moving away from the linear education system which has been the driving trend in the past. “India Inc is looking for multidimensional professionals with cross-functional knowledge. To address modern problems in a sustainable manner, students today need to have a unique perspective, be critical thinkers and have a receptive worldview. Hence, a linear education system can no longer be helpful. Universities need to envision themselves as institutions of global standing and take a transdisciplinary approach towards education that holds promise to enhance students’ learning and development,” he emphasises. 

Chandra of Ahmedabad University asserts research based educational modules as the key strength. “Our programmes are contemporary, many majors are interdisciplinary, and they provide very contemporary skills to help students go to top graduate schools globally, do start-ups or find a job with a high learning content at top organisations in the country,” he says. The institute runs its Signature Foundation Programme which is the common core that all students, irrespective of their major, go through. The Foundation Programme is designed around grand challenges rather than disciplines and builds holistic thinking and enquiry. 

Jayasankar E Variyar, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Academics, GITAM University emphasises that raising the employability proposition of students is at the core of the deliverable plans of leading institutes and, therefore, their curriculum is contemporary where new inputs are added as per the market conditions. “Private institutes are focused on employability and are engaged with specialised trainers. We have also developed methods for competency development of the students and how to increase employability either through faculty contributions or by external speakers, who can give an indication of what is practised at the workplace. Faculty increasingly take sabbaticals in the ‘industry’ to make changes so that the curriculum is relevant,” says he.

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    NAAC accreditation emphasises outcome-based learning leading to learning and skill development in our graduates

    Dr Sujata Shahi, Vice-Chancellor, IILM University, Gurugram

When Covid struck, these top tier institutes were also in the forefront of adopting a hybrid model. According to a senior industry leader, post Covid, leading institutes and universities have adopted technology on a large scale, not only to keep their operations intact but also to improve their outreach. Leading global online education platform Coursera confirms collaboration with Indian private varsities having significantly increased after the pandemic.

“Coursera’s university partners in India, who are among the top higher education institutions in the country, are reporting greater impact and reach online, with widespread interest in their offerings from learners around the world. Indian universities are increasingly leveraging the power of online learning and platforms like Coursera to attract learners from international markets, as well as cater to a larger learner base nationally,” says Raghav Gupta, Managing Director, India and APAC, Coursera. OP Jindal University, Ashoka University, and Indian School of Business are among the leading institutes which are offering selective courses on the Coursera platform. 

Challenges round the corner

While the market concedes that many of these top tier institutes enjoy a good reputation, the NEP mandate which entails bringing massive changes across the educational spectrum is going to change equations for them as well. While enhancing capacity in a quantitative sense would become a must considering the doubling of the GER goal, an equally important emphasis would be significantly revamping quality standards to figure in prestigious global ranking lists. When it comes to Indian representation in global ranking lists, it’s mostly leading IITs and IIMs which continue to dominate the scene even as some of the leading private universities like OP Jindal, Amity and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham also find mention in the QS Ranking list.

Future changes, in the near to long run, are going to be dictated by the NEP mandate and this will entail major structural changes which will come into play. A KPMG report released last year on the impact of the National Education Policy had cited a host of changes the policy will eventually push through in the higher education stream. To begin with, it will lead to integration of vocational education within higher education and at least 50 per cent of learners are expected to have exposure to vocational education by 2025.

The policy strongly recommends establishing high-quality HEIs in aspirational districts and Special Education Zones and one large multidisciplinary HEI in or near every district by 2030. It will also result in greater institutional autonomy through independent Board of Governors (BoG) and the phasing out of affiliating college systems. Furthermore, all standalone professional educational institutions will have to become multidisciplinary by 2030.

The policy intends to create three-tiered institutional architecture: Tier 1 – research universities, Tier 2 – teaching universities and Tier 3 – autonomous colleges. All colleges will have to be accredited and become autonomous degree granting colleges by 2035. The policy also suggests encouraging reputed international universities to set up Indian campuses.

Other important provisions include a flexible curricular structure that will offer multiple entry and exit points to create new possibilities for lifelong learning and greater focus on online education and Open Distance Learning (ODL) as a key means to improve access, equity, and the inclusion of a National Research Foundation to coordinate research funding and direct it to outstanding peer-reviewed research. 

“The policy is talking of an unprecedented churning never seen before in the Indian education system which since independence has been gradually trying to shun the colonial system of education. Even the established institutes will have to make a lot of adjustments,” says Narayanan Ramaswamy of KPMG.

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    Our programmes are contemporary, many majors are interdisciplinary, and they provide very contemporary skills to help students go to top graduate schools globally

    Pankaj Chandra, Vice Chancellor, Ahmedabad University

A major paradigm shift which the policy has envisaged is the creation of a single regulator – the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). The HECI will regulate several functions including accreditation, funding and academic standard setting and will eventually replace other regulatory bodies like the University Grants Commission (UGC) or the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

“There could be multiple agencies working under a single regulator and that is where Indian higher education will be heading in the future,” says Prof GD Sharma, former secretary, UGC. Many private stakeholders are, in fact, in favour of allowing even private agencies to be involved in the accreditation process to expedite the pace, the way it happens in the US.

“The current process is intensive and there is a lot of duplication of the information which is submitted to various agencies. The data used for the Data Verification and Validation is similar to the NIRF. HEIs also submit an AQAR which has similar data. Only 27 per cent is now used for the perception of the peer team. It would be ideal if data from NIRF/AQAR is used and a peer team visit used for further input and a ranking given,” points out E Variyar of Gitam University. 

Observers and analysts cite a host of challenges which Indian universities will have to face in the coming years. “On the pricing front, private universities will have to ensure that they do not completely go out of the affordability radar of the Indian middle class. There are also serious issues on the funding crunch for research purposes which could impact the quality improvement drive vis-à-vis new innovations,” Sharma adds.

The observers are also pointing at phasing out the current set of stereotyped curricula and making it attuned to the changing dynamics in the market, often technology driven. “The new industry demands that we break the stereotypical approach in teaching courses – we have hibernated for far too long while the world metamorphosed at an amazing speed with the advent of interdisciplinary technologies which supported systems like mobiles, robots and other networked device like personal assistants,” says Dr Sandeep Sancheti, renowned educationist and former President of Association of Indian Universities (AIU). 

Interestingly, a recent report by leading consultancy and research firm EY seriously questions the relevance of existing universities in the future. The global report which also has inputs from Indian education leaders, clearly emphasises that universities, in the post Covid era will quickly need to adapt to a new reality due to demographic shifts, geopolitical challenges, changing workplace demands and high student expectations for a quality digital experience.

The report strongly underlines the need to make cost of learning more affordable in the digital era, make the learning process more flexible and customisable for students, make higher education providers accountable beyond just doling out degrees, switch over to commercial and demand driven research and use technology to gain scale while keeping the price affordable for the end users.

“The higher education stream is going through a major change globally and India is no exception where the NEP has cleared the decks for the makeover. For private stakeholders who run institutes or universities, the writing is on the wall: show agility in adjusting to the new educational order,” opines Dr Avantika Tomar, EY-Parthenon India Education Partner. 

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    Those who had managed to successfully establish private colleges after the implementation of the previous education policy in the 90s mostly took the plunge and graduated to set up universities

    H Chaturvedi, Director, BIMTEC

Ready to scale up 

The existing equation, therefore, makes it clear that with the wave of change triggered by the NEP implementation coming into play, adjustment or scaling up issues both in the quantitative and qualitative sense are going to become imperative for everybody in the ecosystem. “The NEP no doubt is well-intentioned. But we are all waiting for the government to announce an action plan,” says Prof GD Sharma.

“The implementation part is going to take some time. An exercise of this nature evolves as a generational change which remains valid for many decades. Not everyone in the ecosystem will be able to bear the pressure of changes which the policy will demand. But for the established ones with serious intent, new avenues will eventually open up,” points out Narayanan Ramaswamy of KPMG.

And this is what the existing top-tier players are claiming – gradually getting ready for a much larger-scale play with the defining addition to their own operations. Universities like Jindal Global are collaborating with some of the most noted international names to offer defining courses. “JGBS has partnered with the world-renowned Wharton School for a physical immersion at the University of Pennsylvania (an Ivy League institution). The school has further partnered with top organisations in the area of business analytics, including IBM, SAP, and AWS (Amazon Web Services), to deliver a world-class educational experience and curriculum designed for business analytics for experienced business professionals. The One Year Global MBA in Business Analytics is all set to create a benchmark in the education sector with the involvement of the best industry practitioners and corporates,” says Prof Mayank Dhaundiyal, Dean of the university.

The programme commences early next month at the JGU campus in Sonipat, near Delhi. For Manipal, the key focus is going to be on intensifying innovation deliverables across the board. “Innovations could be categorised primarily into four types, namely Incremental, Sustaining, Disruptive and Radical Innovation. As a university that is operating in a wide field of studies and with a global presence, it is imperative for us to adopt all the four types of innovations to stay progressive, relevant and competitive,” says Dr Venkatesh. “The central focus of the changes to be brought by MAHE is to enable the students to be groomed for meeting the challenges of the real world, as graduates and responsible citizens, with confidence of the knowledge acquired, hands-on experience obtained, right attitude and ethics,” he further adds.

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    Overall MAHE provides a very high quality of education along with world class student experience so that our students are prepared for roles as global citizens

    Lt General (Dr) MD Venkatesh, Vice-Chancellor Manipal Academy

For institutes like UPES, the next big directional change would be to adopt an ‘industry in the classroom’ approach. “Students understand a concept better when they learn it through real life experiences. Thus, it is time that educators stop expecting students to apply fixed methods to arrive at a prewritten conclusion and instead encourage them to think creatively, form their own distinctive viewpoints and foster critical thinking which are very essential skills required today. This approach will eventually prepare students become adept in solving real world problems,” points out VC Dr Sunil Rai.

Prakash Gopalan of the Thapar Institute of Engineering & Technology also strongly underlines the need of putting new teaching models in place. “Experiential education is one very effective way to equip students with applied skillsets. In India, these ideas are still in their infancy; but we at the Thapar Institute have developed a sustainable model to implement these changes with the establishment of an experiential learning centre. The faculty and students work together on real world problems with undergraduate students from different engineering disciplines. Such projects are interwoven with regular engineering courses. These courses impart theoretical concepts that are applied in developing solutions for complex engineering problems,” he explains.

On the innovation front, there are defining initiatives in the pipeline. For instance, Rajkot-based Marwadi University (with NAAC A+ accreditation), has just announced signing of an MoU with Indian Technology Congress Association (ITCA) for designing and launching a satellite within a year and thus will become the first University of Gujarat to do so.

There are several examples of small structural changes being implemented in the higher education stream which may take a more serious shape in the coming years. “Traditionally, we have been celebrating single discipline institutes which has not been the case globally. NEP wants that to change and we have preliminary signals of things moving in that direction. Not many people are aware of this but IIT Kharagpur now has a full-fledged medical course. Every IIT is planning new additions. Similarly, the GIFT city which is coming up near Ahmedabad, will create space for foreign universities,” elaborates Narayanan Ramaswamy of KPMG. Quite clearly, in the decade of unprecedented churning which the NEP promises to trigger, the established private universities will be intensely vying with each other to stay ahead in the race.

  • Jindal Global University

Key highlights of NEP 2020: High education

Integration of vocational education within higher education. At least 50 per cent learners to have exposure to vocational education by 2025.

Enhanced equity and inclusion - Establishing high-quality HEIs in aspirational districts and Special Education Zones. At least one large multidisciplinary HEI in or near every district by 2030

 Move towards multidisciplinary and integrated teacher education programmes and a Four-year B.Ed. programme. Four-year integrated B.Ed. to become the minimum qualification by 2030.

 Greater institutional autonomy through independent Board of Governor (BoG); affiliating college system to be phased out. All standalone professional educational institutions to become multidisciplinary by 2030.

 Conversion of existing stand-alone professional institutions to multidisciplinary HEIs by 2030. All HEIs to be multidisciplinary with student strength > 3000

 Three-tiered institutional architecture. Tier I – Research Universities, Tier II – Teaching Universities, Tier III – Autonomous colleges. All colleges to be accredited and become autonomous degree granting colleges by 2035

 Focus on increasing scale of HEIs and promoting multidisciplinary education

 Reputed international universities to be encouraged to set up Indian campuses

 Career progression pathways for faculty based on teaching, research, and service for faculty and institutional leadership

 Flexible curricular structure that will offer multiple entry and exit points to create new possibilities for lifelong learning

 Greater focus on online education and Open Distance Learning (ODL) as a key means to improve access, equity, inclusion 05 Conversion of existing stand-alone professional institutions to multidisciplinary

 National Research Foundation to coordinate research funding and direct it to outstanding peer-reviewed research

 Single regulator (HECI) for all of higher education, separation of functional roles –National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA), National Accreditation Agency (NAA), General Education Council (GEC), Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC)

 Greater disclosure of information for public oversight and accountability

  • Thapar Institute has developed a sustainable model to implement changes

Too lofty a target? 

India becoming a major global hub in higher education over the next decade is a major milestone set up by New Education Policy, 2020. Observers, however, believe it would be easier said than done considering the current low base and the growing competition in the international market. 

Statistically, the students’ inflow-outflow ratio is somewhat parallel to what we have typically seen in the tourism business. India’s outbound far exceeds the foreign tourists’ arrivals number. And a similar trend has emerged in higher education. “As per the current estimates, about 1.1 million Indian students are going abroad for their higher studies.

By 2024, this volume is expected to further grow and reach close to 1.8 million mark,” points out Prof G D Sharma. As against this, the number of foreign students coming to Indian varsities is broadly in the range of 50,000-60,000. This is too low a base if we look at the leading global hubs which drove the international studies market close to six million annually just before Corona.

US was leading the pack with over a million students’s entry while the next two major destinations, UK and Canada, were slightly over half a million. China and Australia, the remaining two countries in the top 5 list were close to half a million mark. No gainsaying that Corona had adversely affected the study led movements but it is bouncing back again. And as per the projection of a research agency, the total volume of foreign students enrollment will reach close to 8 million by 2025. 

So far, India has not been in this race. The inflow of students for higher studies in the country has primarily been driven by neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, and African countries. But leading stakeholders confirm the country is currently struggling to keep this base intact.“ With rising per capita income, the rich and the upper middle class in Bangladesh have begun sending their children to Europe and the US for higher studies. Nepal is under economic pressure and, therefore, the inflow is not going to increase from there substantially,” points out dean of a private university who did not wish to be named.

According to him, to make India an attractive higher education hub, the government had introduced a dedicated campaign like ‘Study in India’ (SII) in 2017 (much before the NEP announcement) and has also put in place a programme called ‘Institutes of Eminence’ to strongly send the message that India is a hub of world class institutes (four private varsities have been recognized under this programme – BITS Pilani, Manipal, OP Jindal, Shiv Nadar). However, these initiatives are yet to deliver on the expected lines. Corona led disruptions in 2020 and 2021 are also attributed to have been key hurdles in getting better results. Furthermore, country like China is upping the ante with multi-disciplinary offerings at a more price competitive rates.

  • Marwadi University: focus on innovation

So with these odds, how is India actually poised to become a higher studies global hub in the medium run? Noted global educationist like Prof Jagdish Sheth strongly believes it could be made possible by a slew of initiatives by Indian varisities, both public and private. “This can range from hosting students for short immersion and experiential courses of two to three weeks, to collocating foreign universities on their campuses. Most private universities have large acres of land and can invite foreign universities to open a campus inside of their land in India, not just for Indian students but their own students. In addition to in person education, the biggest opportunity lies in online education,” he points out .

With the world considerably absorbing online modules post-Corona, the chances of Indian institutes reaching out to a larger volume of students of diverse nationalities has also brightened. “More than half (55 per cent) of the students in IIT Roorkee’s Post Graduate Certificate in Data Science and Machine Learning on Coursera are from outside India. They span across 14 countries including Canada, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia. Over a quarter of the program’s students are from the United States. Similarly, more than two-thirds of the total learners enrolled in programs offered by Indian School of Business, our oldest university partner in the country, come from outside India,” informs Raghav Gupta, MD (India & APAC), Coursera.

“In the last year, we’ve witnessed a 300 per cent increase in the number of certificates from Indian university partners,” he says. This could well be indicating the opening of a new route which could take the country closer to its global hub aspirations.

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