Storyboard18 | Companies don't differentiate between online and offline education degrees today: upGrad CEO Arjun Mohan

Mohan talks about upGrad's new campaign which puts the spotlight on the importance of online MBAs for working professionals, and how the company is looking at a more hybrid model of offline with online education

Updated: Nov 11, 2021 05:30:37 PM UTC
Arjun Mohan, chief executive officer - India, upGrad

Edtech major upGrad launched a new campaign to spotlight the importance of online MBAs in today’s competitive ecosystem. In an interview with Storyboard18, Arjun Mohan, chief executive officer - India, upGrad, talks about the new work, the trends defining online degree courses in a post-pandemic world, and unlocking potential in Tier II and Tier III markets. Edited excerpts:

Q. Tell us about upGrad’s new advertising campaign that positions its online MBA as a solution for working professionals. What is the objective of the campaign?Over the last year, we have seen that our target group (TG) is fairly aware of our brand. It was now a good time to move into phase two of our brand building and marketing, which is to focus on speaking about the USP of our brand. That is what this campaign is all about. We focused on upGrad MBA, and have used some of the insights we hear from working professionals who speak to our counsellors.

Over a period, we have realised they fundamentally have a few problems that stop them from going for an MBA. One of them is that they don’t want to take a career break from a good, well-paying job. So, upGrad’s online MBA means you don’t have to take a career break. That’s the message in the ad.

Q. One change that the pandemic had brought about is how people look at online education or courses as legitimate upgrades in qualification, leading to a boom in the edtech space. But now things have started opening up and we are going back to normalcy. How is this likely to impact your business and the way people look at online MBAs and degree courses? We have showcased to the working professional that online learning is an option that is as good as the mainstream offline option. In the last year, we have shown outcomes, transitions, and we have shown them that the same, or superior, experiences are possible while taking online courses. There is a small trend of some level of fatigue of doing everything online, and people are looking for some kind of offline interactions, social aspects, and so on. upGrad is open to looking at hybrid options also.

Q. What is this hybrid model that you are looking at?
Certain things can be done well online and there are certain aspects where offline (interaction) helps—like the social aspect. People do want to meet their friends, batchmates, and interact. What I am talking about is upGrad providing an environment to do that. It could be in the form of informal social meets. It could be meeting upGrad alumni in one of the base camps which we have across the country. These hybrid aspects of upGrad were there before the pandemic. We will bring them back as and when cities open up.

Q. How long before online degrees become mainstream? The ultimate aim of learning and upskilling is a promotion or getting a good job at a good firm. According to your research, have people and organisations started recognising online degrees as a more legitimate qualification?
We believe that the abysmal GER (Gross Enrolment Ratio) of 27 percent that India currently has can be changed by taking education online. As a developing nation, we need a GER ratio of 70 percent. We can’t build so many universities. It’s impossible in the timeline we are looking at. Hence, we have to take education online. If you go to the corporate world, private enterprises, there is hardly anyone who differentiates between online and offline today. That’s a huge change we saw during the pandemic. None of the HRs (human resources) went to offline campuses to do their interviews, every single interview happened online or on zoom calls. As a result, people have started thinking that if I can interview a person online, train a person online, if I can work online, what’s the big deal if the person got their degree online.

Q. What are your key markets going forward? You mentioned that there has been a major shift in the attitudes of people. How do you approach your TG, or has there been a shift in the TG itself after last year?
I am seeing a good amount of shifts. Earlier, online courses were heavily tech-focused. I have seen a big shift as the product has become mainstream. We have seen a lot of non-tech folks coming in. MBA is a big focus for us, and it’s pretty much 50-50 tech and non-tech. The second shift I am seeing is in tier II and tier III cities coming online.

Q. Owing to these shifts, how have your communication and marketing strategies changed?
A lot of our promotions and ads are seen by a family member, and they communicate it to their relative who comes to us later. This has resulted in us doing ads in multiple languages, and we do local campaigns to ensure we reach out to TGs even in states which may not be proficient in Hindi and English languages.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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