A large number of Indians seem happy to forego textbooks and adopt tech-savvy online courses.

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SwissCognitiveThis is perhaps why Coursera, the US-based edtech platform, has 4.8 million users in India, accounting for over 10% of its user base. The company hopes to further cash in on this popularity. It recently tied up with the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, where the elite business school will offer a master-track course on the digital platform.

This is a marker of both India’s skilling needs and Coursera’s potential to fulfil them, according to Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera. “If you look at what’s happening demographically, there are 300 million people that are going to be entering the workforce, a 100 million in the next 10 years in India alone,” he told Quartz. IIM Calcutta is the first institute to sign on, and Coursera hopes there will be many more to follow.

In an interview with Quartz, Maggioncalda talks about the Indian education market, and the popularity of AI and coding courses here. Edited excerpts:

How do you see Coursera bridging the skilling gap for its Indian users?

The gross enrollment ratio, the percentage of people who start college after high school is about 26% in India. And the prime minister has said by 2025 he’d like to get that to 36%, which is great. I believe the government has tripled their spending as a percentage of GDP on education. But we estimate it would take about 250 new universities to meet the demand to get from 26% to 35%. So there’s a really big need to create more access to higher education.

Over the last seven years, we have signed up 170 universities in 30-35 businesses who’ve authored 3,600 courses and these courses are mostly in data, data science, technology, and business. Today we have about 44 million individuals on Coursera, and about 4.8 million are from India. So after the US, India is the second-largest population of learners on Coursera.

What about Coursera do you think appeals to Indians?

If you look at the demographics of learners in India on Coursera, you find that many more of them are looking for work than the global average. So clearly there is a belief here in India that a way to get an economic opportunity is through learning. The question is, well, how do you create access?

The first real vector was business-to-customer, where anybody can go on Coursera.org, you could take the courses for free and pay for the certificate. Three years ago, we launched Coursera for Business. What we found was that many companies are interested in upskilling their employees, who are often college graduates and don’t have the kinds of skills that many employers want. […]

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