The higher education industry has been lagging behind digital transformation and is practically inactive in the movement.
According to a study, only five percent of college budgets were dedicated to IT spending and only one-third of college students in the United States have had some type of online course before the pandemic.
Universities are conducting cutting-edge research in a variety of fields, but when it comes to restructuring their own education systems, there has been very little momentum.
With the world thrust into a global pandemic, institutions must rely on technology to help keep their classrooms connected. And to top it off, traditional institutions are tasked with keeping up with the demand while at the same time trying to find a way to compete with more affordable and specialized institutions.
Shan Chopra understands the value of a good education, but also the challenges ahead for the education sector.
And now he wants to help others gain a similar experience.
Chopra is the Chief Brand and Community Partner for TC Global, a leading global education, learning, and investment services platform. At TC Global, Chopra is spearheading the digital transformation of the company that many say has helped pioneer the concept of international education in India.
How much of an impact did it have?
Since its creation 1995, TC Global has positively affected the lives of millions of students. Formerly known as The Chopras Group, TC Global has engaged with over 2.5 million students and helped market over 700 universities across 40 countries.
Chopra recently sat down with Netguru to discuss the topic of higher education, the challenges of the industry, and how it is being impacted in this day and age of COVID-19.
The challenge in higher education
When TC Global was first founded in 1995, they had two key problems that they were trying to solve.
“The first really was to help accelerate and sort of broaden the horizons of students thinking about international education,” Chopra says. “And at the time there was no real infrastructure to do that.”
The founders of the company went on a massive campaign across all the schools in India to help educate them on the opening up of international markets. They also aimed to educate the students that there was a vast landscape of careers that they could strive for outside of the traditional ones.
No more did they have to strive to be doctors or engineers. They could be something else.
And the second problem?
“On the other side, it was really about helping universities have a formal infrastructure, an ethical and high-integrity infrastructure, to be able to recruit talent out of India,” Chopra says.
TC Global's client portfolio includes the elite, outside of the World Top 20, but also next-tier schools that need greater visibility in international marketing and recruitment in-country
Their student clients, however, have evolved as far as their needs and wants.
In the past, students would mainly use TC Global to help gain information regarding an international education, inquire about a potential program, or to learn about the basics of studying abroad.
However now, in the age of the internet, students have the resources to do this research independently and see TC Global more as a mentor and a platform for validation
“They see us as this sort of arbitrator of truth and validation,” Chopra says.
The students present TC Global with their research, inform them which universities and courses they’d like to attend, and essentially ask if they’re on the right track to achieve their academic goals.
Seeing this slight shift in how students use TC Global as a service is what led the company to become more of a platform brand backed by community, instead of a brick and mortar-services business.
Information as a commodity & the impact of COVID-19
According to Chopra, the higher education sector is one of the only sectors where you can continue to increase prices without changing the underlying product.
“We’re investing more and more in education and getting less in return.” Chopra says.
This is a problem, and it needs to change.
He believes that there hasn’t been any real change up to this point, due to the lack of accountability. This isn’t just referring to the cost of education, but also in some respects to the lack of change in curriculums.
No one holds academics accountable for things such as helping their graduates to immediately find amazing jobs or even producing highly skilled citizens.
If they did, perhaps things would evolve.
“We’re living in an era of fluid dynamics where things are changing rapidly, really quickly, and perhaps at a pace that we haven’t witnessed before,” Chopra says. “Traditional education isn’t adapting to be able to participate in industry 4.0. And that’s what we have to change. We have to create incentives for them to do that.”
One company that is trying to change the higher education model is Lambda School. Chopra points out that the online education platform is “crushing the incentive structure”. Instead of students paying in advance to get an education, Lambda doesn’t require their students to pay their tuition until they get hired. A model that perhaps should be replicated and followed by other institutions in the future.
As of today, there is no real way to hold institutions accountable for their products. And frankly, there’s no real incentive for them to change if people still view college degrees as a mandatory prerequisite for them to build a successful life.
“We’ve seen information become commoditized over the last 20 years,” Chopra says. “And as information becomes commoditized, you’re seeing more and more self-service occur, more and more self-learning occur. And so, the value of going into a higher education or traditional education degree is really in the traditional signals of validation that we have. Because we believe we need that validation to be able to build a life. And we believe that companies won’t hire us without that degree.”
However, technology has changed the way students want to learn and absorb information. With COVID-19 forcing the world into quarantine, it has in a sense accelerated that movement.
Students no longer feel they need to be in a classroom to learn. They’re becoming comfortable with a hybrid approach to absorbing information.
“Right now, there is a lot of blended learning happening in higher education,” Chopra says. “On the demand side we haven’t witnessed much of a shock, so we are dealing with supply-side constraints more than a drop in demand for international education. In fact, Covid has encouraged an entire new segment to re-engage in HE and possibly in an international education.”
The fact that there is still a high demand to study abroad shows the value that people put on an international education. TC Global’s main challenge is to figure out how to navigate the waters of quarantine restrictions, regulatory risk, and closed borders in order to meet this demand.
Not meeting the demand would deprive students of what Chopra feels is a unique life experience.
“International education really is more of an equalizer because of the experience that it delivers and creates,” Chopra says. “It basically builds these global citizens as a product, which I think is where the value is, more than in the content itself.”
What’s Next for Higher Education & TC Global
TC Global’s impact on higher education and the students in India has been substantial since its inception in 1995.
Despite having already impacted the lives of millions of students, they believe they’re just getting started and the disruption of the higher education sector has just begun.
In order to continue evolving, not only should academic institutions be held accountable for their product and their students’ success in the world, but the world as a whole must start viewing education and skills in a different light.
“We have to value and celebrate the vocational worker just as we celebrate the graduate from Harvard,” Chopra says. “That’s what will truly create a paradigm shift where you’re not valuing people for the signals that you create in society, but for actual skills and the actual work they bring to the table.”
To help shift perceptions, Chopra and TC Global are investing in their platform to help participate in this disruption. Over the next decade, they hope they’ll have a truly global education platform for everyone.
“We want to build a community-backed ecosystem for students which will serve as a discovery browser to select any course at any university in the world in traditional HE. We want students to have access to a global community and manage their entire application journey at the touch of a few buttons.” Chopra says. “We would expand this to other categories of learning and ed-tech in time, too. On the other side, we are building a brand, marketing, and analytics engine to help accelerate traditional HE marketing & recruitment into the age of the internet.”