Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Education Business in India: The Logic of the Opportunity

I believe there is a billion dollar opportunity in Education in India, and I am not simply talking about demography.

India has great demography, lots of young people and the second largest education market in the world, but that's besides the point. The billion dollar opportunity does not exist because it is a big market. Any Western institution will also tell you that it is an extremely poor market, where the students have very little money to pay. In fact, many Western institutions would rather focus on richer territories than India, because they have come to believe that India is almost impossible to make money in. And, this is precisely the opportunity.

So, here is the argument: There is a billion dollar opportunity in Indian Education not because of its population, but the nature of the market - it is the ideal launchpad for a global education business.

Before you laugh, consider this: Here is one of the world's most populous country, where the language of Higher Education is English. This is a poor country, so one has to innovate and create accessible solutions. It has bad educational institutions (mostly) and Western institutions are generally disinterested, because of the lower margins. All of this together, India is the 're-bar' equivalent of the Education space, using the terminologies of disruptive innovation.

Am I predicting that Indian Educational institutions will take over the world in time? Well, no, because there are significant barriers to cross. First, the regulation - Indian Education is riddled with disabling, confusing and contradictory regulations. But this is also at the cusp of change, as the recent election results made it amply clear that India has new kind of electorate with a new kind of demand, and the government is clear about being more hands off. That will possibly come to education, too. Second, Indian education businesses were spoilt by excess demand - they did not innovate. But now after a spate of huge expansion, the competition is biting: The moment of innovation is now. The Western businesses (but not the Western institutions) are getting into India: Once they have got rid of margin thinking, they would get India and bring the innovation to compete with well-entrenched local players. And, then, local players will also adopt the innovation.

So, I don't know whether Indian Education Businesses will take over the world, but this much I can say with confidence: The next billion dollar education business will have a significant India play. In fact, I believe that the Google equivalent of Education may come from India. Whether this will be Indian company like Manipal envisioning the world, or an Western company like Laureate supercharging their businesses with Indian markets, it remains to be seen. 

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