A recent story on U21Global highlights the challenges of executing a vision which has arrived ahead of its time.
U21 had a very unique positioning of leveraging the power of university consortium and technology to build a global online university. However, it seems to have missed on two important aspects--market readiness and cost management. For example, its biggest target markets like India and China are still not ready for online programs which are expensive, although they are ready for cheaper programs that add "credentialing" aspect to their profile.
As pointed out in this article, price of brick-and-mortar courses in China was US$2,000 as compared to US$7,000 for U21.
Likewise, in India, Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning (SCDL), started right around the same time as U21, claims to enroll more than 200,000 students and charges around US$500 for similar programs. Thus, while on the revenue side, U21 has limitations on the tuition pricing. On the cost side, U21 has heavy expenses associated with international administrators and faculty members. This has resulted in inefficient administration of the venture.
Online education model works on scalability and not selectivity. And the scalability in markets like India exists with the price conscious mass segment. With the transfer of controlling stake to Manipal Education, cost structures could be better balanced with the market needs in China and India.
At other level, U21 needs to expand its outreach by partnering with institutions in different segments. For example, U21's partnership with IGNOU to offer joint Postgraduate Programme in Information Technology Management would enable it to leverage IGNOU's large student base (total enrollment of 2million students) and established credentials in a price-sensitive mass segment. The program is priced at $3,750 and accepted 112 students for its first intake in Sept'09. For global online universities considering to enter Indian market this reaffirms the pricing challenges in Indian market.
Rahul Choudaha, PhD
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