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Combining fun of campus, with online courses; IIT Madras sets an example

Combining fun of campus, with online courses; IIT Madras sets an example

When we met Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, he was in the middle of a 35-day tour across the world. He had gone to Europe, North Africa, Turkey, Middle East. After India, he was planning to head to Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and then go home to the US. His longest stop was in India, an entire week. He had been to Delhi, Kerala, Mumbai. Bengaluru was his last stop, during which he participated in a Coursera board meeting, and an earnings call – from his Ritz Carlton hotel room. “The world has really changed. Before the pandemic, you would do your board meetings in your boardroom. But now, it’s all here. I have a travelling kit in my bags – studio lights, two screens. My laptop has a great camera. I call myself the nomadic CEO. I can work from anywhere. I’ve become so good at it,” he says, laughing.That same ease of combining the physical and virtual is what he’s attempting to bring to students and colleges. For those not familiar with it, Coursera is a US-based massive open online course provider, founded in 2012 by Stanford University computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller.

People, Maggioncalda says, are coming back to campus, after Covid forced them to learn from homes. “But campus can only hold so many people. What about the other hundreds of millions of people who can’t go to campus? Well, now the schools are starting to say, maybe we can do a BTech on campus and a BSc online. That way we can preserve that special experience (in campus), but we can also open up quality education for far more people,” he says.

IIT Madras’ online BSc in data science course, Maggioncalda says, is a wakeup call for all universities. That course, launched last year, generated massive demand. “It shows that you can have quality, you can have accessibility, you can have top brand,” he says. Coursera, he says, has signed on a number of top academic institutions, including IIM Ahmedabad, IIT Bombay, IIM Kolkata, IIT Roorkee, IISc. “They’re all starting to move online,” he says, as pressure also builds up from education technology players.

Employers too, he says, are looking at very different kinds of candidates, those who have a college degree and an industry certificate. “We call it the role of industry micro credentials in higher education. I like to call it Higher Ed 2.0 – inserting industry into the academic curriculum,” he says.

Today, Coursera has some 27 professional certificates from industry, certificates from Google, IBM, Meta, Intuit, Microsoft. “We are inserting them fully branded into the university curriculum. So we have universities like NMIMS, GITAM, Symbiosis, Manipal using them. So, unlike a lot of edtech players that are trying to compete against higher education, we are trying to enable higher education to adapt and to deliver something that’s hybrid,” Maggioncalda says.


We have about 110 million registered learners. There’s 20 million in the US, 17 million in India, and then there’s Mexico with 5.5 million. India is growing at 34% a year, the US at about 20%. So, India is going to become our number one country soon. We make far more revenue from the US than from India, because a vast majority of learners in India are taking free courses. But when we think about the long term, it’s pretty clear to me that India is the big opportunity – you have 850 million people between 15 and 24 years old, it’s an upwardly mobile population that puts a premium on education, increasingly English speaking, which means their employability to
multinational companies is very high.


Before the pandemic, it was more the companies telling employees that your job is gonna get automated, so you need to learn something otherwise you will lose your job. What the pandemic has done with online and remote work is that it has made it more obvious that there’s some really good jobs out there that pay really well. So people are saying, if I could just get myself re-educated, I can get a better job with more flexibility.

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