Interview

Industry and academia should interact on an ongoing basis

Anand Nagarajan is the Founder and CEO of Dexler Information
Solutions Pvt Ltd. Anand Nagarajan is one of the most promising and young
entrepreneurs who has made a mark in the field of building a modern educational
infrastructure. Nagarajan ventured in his business after perusing a Bachelors of
Engineering in Electronics and Communication.

In July 2001, Nagarajan founded
and led the operational merger of two existing firms to form Dexler Information
Solutions Pvt Ltd. Over the last 10 years he is responsible for setting up five
ventures in four countries and has led the company into Education, Consulting
and Enterprise Mobility Solutions that has helped his clients like IBM,
Siemens, Infosys, HCL and many more to develop their operations. Nagarajan is
also presently the co-chairman of National Council on HRD, Education and
Employment–ASSOCHAM.

In an exclusive interview with India Education Review Anand
Nagarajan shares his views about the growth of e-learning in India and the ways
industry can help the sector grow.

How you look at the
growth of e-learning in Indian education sector?

Education is one of the very few recession proof sectors in
the Indian economy. This has to do with our inherent (positive) bias towards
education. Plus the fact that admissions in higher education sector today are
to cater to a job market in two to four years.

The growth, specifically in the eLearning market has been
steady and sustained till date. Revenue growth of most companies has been
steady, it has not been sporadic like some other sectors that see stellar
growth for a period and then hit a rough patch.  

The positive factor is that this growth has been fuelled by
a few pockets of the education sector. There are still unaddressed or
under-addressed sections of the education sector and these sections still have
huge growth potential going forward. Given the size of the Indian education
sector (approx. 120 million students across K-12 and higher ed) there is enough
room to see really large players evolve over the next 3 to 5 year period.

What are the products
and solutions you are offering to the higher sector in India?

At Dexler we see the higher education space as three
distinct markets – arts and science, tech schools and B-schools. This can again
be sub-divided into aided and unaided institutions. While our current focus is
with b-schools and t-schools, we will be introducing products and solutions for
the other sectors over the next 8 quarters. The current solution suite offers
the following:

Curriculum
Excellence:
We are launching a comprehensive curriculum solution for the
B-school market. In the current market, B-schools are being challenged on their
contextual relevance in the education sector. Increasingly students are not
finding value in pursuing management education. The root cause of this is that
there is a faculty quality and quantity challenge. Our MBA solutions will
enable institutions to standardize the curriculum delivery through a more
immersive approach. With the recent announcement from AICTE on technology
driven distance MBA we expect this product line to find high adoption. Initial customer
pilots have already gotten very positive feedback.

The second phase of this product line would be to extend
this to T-school curriculum, starting from the fourth quarter of 2013.

Faculty Excellence:
This solution is also targeted at the B-school market but addresses the faculty
training challenges. We have a dedicated pool of faculty that deliver virtual
faculty training. This is targeted to improve the breadth and depth of subjects
being taught at b-schools. It also focuses on

Career Excellence:
Our career excellence solution suite has a comprehensive set of career courses
that are focused on employability. This solution suite consists of a mix of
content solution from our partners and Dexler built courses.

Operational
Excellence:
We recently acquired a Campus management software product. This
product offers a comprehensive solution to address the various administrative
challenges faced by educational institutions today. The solution is available
in an unified platform and deployable as an On demand cloud based model or an
on premise model and addresses various campus needs like Student Lifecycle, Accounting,
Payroll, HR, Library and Hostel management with the unique feature of an
integrated Job Portal. This solution creates a value proposition for the
management, teaching staff, non-teaching staff, students and parents’
communities.

You are focusing on
which segment of the Indian society through your product?

Our solutions are focused on the higher education and
corporate education sectors.

You being member of
ASSOCHAM, do you agree that Industry has not done enough to support the
education sector in India?

It takes two sides to work together to continuously improve
the system of education. Fixing inefficiency of our education system over 16 years
of a students’ life cannot be outsourced entirely to the industry.
Unfortunately in this context, the usual focus is on the IT industry to provide
employment. While the IT industry continues to be a large recruiter of
freshers, colleges need to look beyond the IT industry. The trend has always
been than irrespective of the stream of education there is an opportunity with
the IT majors. This nullifies the choice of course selection being directly
linked to career opportunities thus causing a huge imbalance across industry
sectors. If the IT industry has a dull year it immediately impacts placements
across the board and a continued slowdown in recruitment in IT also goes on to
impact admissions.

We need to consciously move towards a system where skill shortage
in areas like manufacturing, logistics, automobile, mining etc are proactively
addressed by higher education providers.

Specifically in terms of the industry – institute interface,
there is a lot of credible working being done by industry advocacy groups like
ASSOCHAM or NASSCOM. It is important to have the right expectation of these
bodies also. They continuously provide inputs to the education sector in terms
of their expectations. The institutions that listen, partner and align
accordingly see far higher benefits than those who chose to ignore the message.
See the example of institutions like VIT in Vellore or ISB in Hyderabad, in a
very short period of time they have become leading institutions of higher
education. It goes to show that colleges that focus on quality of education
will continue to be a destination of choice for both students and industry.

How the gap between
Industry and academia can be bridged?

Bridging the gap is not a onetime activity; it is a
continuous process of engagement. If you notice the dynamics of all the
industries are changing. While some change on a quarterly basis some other have
longer cycles. This has a direct impact on the workforce requirement for each
of the sectors. Now the challenge for academia is to predict how each of the
sectors will look like in two or four years time. This is something that even
most mature industries cannot predict for themselves. At best you can get
indication of how the next four to six quarters will look like.

So it is important that both groups interact on an ongoing
basis. Early signals are always available and academia need to continuously
ensure they are in sync with the market expectations. We must also note that in
reality that this easier said than done. The level of regulation currently in
the education sector does not permit this level of agility – that is where
organizations like ours play an important role in providing colleges with
solutions that are industry aligned on an ongoing basis.

What could be most
important development to take place for the education sector in 2013?

Given the size of the education sector we don’t see a magic
pill that will revolutionize or fix the problems overnight. It is a complex
maze of policy, governance, structure and local factors. There is no one size
fits all solution that will become an overnight sensation. The developments in
this sector will be slow and steady and will take time for mass adoption.

There have been some positive moves from the government on
policy initiatives. RTE in the school system has had its fair share of
opposition but people are getting to accept that it is here to stay. Over the
next few years we expect some significant impact in K – 12 education as schools
find the right balance between commercial desire and societal obligation.

The higher education sector has been seeing signs of opening
up to foreign participation. There has also been a new push from regulatory
bodies like AICTE encouraging more technology driven education delivery. The
education sector continues to be a high priority focus area for the government
of the day; I can only expect good things to come out of it. The slew of policy
initiatives is a very positive sign.

Given the number of private sector service and solution
providers in the space, there is always something new brewing. On a regular
basis we hear of new and innovative solutions being launched. While many of
them don’t see reach commercial scale, it ensures that the education sector is
constantly pushed to look beyond traditional approaches.

We expect to see far higher technology adoption in the
education space, specifically in higher education.

How the entry of
foreign institutions would affect the higher education

It is always good to have an environment that promotes
healthy competition. There will be an impact across multiple levels. The extent
of the impact is finally linked to exact framework provided by the government.
There are still many areas that need to be clarified. Given the size of the
education market it India it will be a dream destination for a lot of
international players. The entry barriers needs to ensure than only the best
can enter, we have enough of our local institutions looking at this purely from
a commercial angle, we don’t need the foreign ones coming in to murky the water
further.

With entry of the reputed international player, we can
expect the business model of higher education institutions to see a change.
Globally the top schools have only around 10 to 20 per cent of their revenues
from student fees. The rest is from research grants, sale of publication,
alumni contributions and endowments. This brings in a very different angle to
affordability of high quality faculty thus making a more attractive as a career
choice.

We can expect to see some more options in courses offered.
Currently there is a dearth of good post graduate programs in India.
Traditionally this is where students in India pursue international education.

The pressure will be
felt more by the top schools today than the ones struggling to survive. This
can only translate to institutions in India adapting and evolving to keep up
with the international players. All in all, this will be a positive more – if the
appropriate frameworks are available.

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