Manipal Group investee U21 Global, the online university promoted by a consortium of international universities, is getting a makeover.
After tying up with the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in July 2009 which allowed it to leverage its infrastructure, U21 Global is in talks with around 10 other institutions — mostly private universities in India — for a similar agreement. It is also gradually shifting focus to corporate education despite originally setting up an online university offering masters degree programmes.
"We are exploring (the possibility of) working with partners that have study centres. Under this model, the partner would take the lead in developing market opportunities while U21 Global would determine the content and offer joint or fully-awarded programmes. We aim to finalise some of the institutional partners by the end of calender year 2010," said Nick Hutton, CEO of U21 Global.
U21Global was established in 2001 as a joint venture of 17 members of international university consortium Universitas 21 and Thomson Learning (now known as Cengage Learning) to offer online business degree programmes to students. In 2007, Manipal Education Group acquired a 50 per cent stake in U21 Global by purchasing the holding of Cengage Learning and gradually upped it to 75 per cent. Rest of the stake is held by institutions like the Universities of Melbourne,Nottingham, Birmingham and Virginia.
A first-of-its kind initiative at the time of its inception, the university has had 9,000 enrolments since it started operations, which is much lesser than what it had initially projected. The cost of the programme and an underdeveloped market for online MBAs in Asia, pose as hurdles to its growth.
According to a report from The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, in November 2009, at the start, U21 Global had reportedly forecasted revenues of $820 million and an operating profit of $325 million in 2011. Its business plan had envisioned that shareholding universities would recoup the total initial investment of $50 million in six to nine years. But the number of enrolments always remained a concern. The university, according to Hutton, broke even for the first time (operating profits) in December 2009.
U 21 Global charges $12,000 for its MBA programme (which could be completed in 1.5-5 years) in India, which, according to academician is on the higher side since students are yet to warm up to the concept of online MBAs.
“It is not easy for us to offer an Indian MBA online at the price we do. However, we are quite competitive with some institutions. Our focus in India has been to build relationships with corporate customers,” said Anand Sudarshan, CEO and MD, Manipal Education.
Sudarshan added that the average MBA aspirant in India was one who had little or no work experience and would not be the right target group for U21 Global's MBA programme. He said the institution targets executives in the 28-35 age group who are financially independent and feel the need to equip themselves with the latest knowledge.