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India's digital shift to be evolutionary, not revolutionary: Nigel Portwood

Sudipto Dey/New Delhi 13 Aug 17 | 12:00 AM

Nigel Portwood, Global Chief Executive of Oxford University Press

Oxford University Press (OUP), world’s largest university press, recently reported double-digit growth (11 per cent) in sales from emerging markets, largely driven by China and India. In an e-mail interaction, Nigel Portwood, global chief executive of OUP, shares with Sudipto Dey plans to step up investment in R&D, digitisation and the online teacher-training programme. Edited excerpts:

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What have the key growth drivers in India been?

OUP has been present in India for the last 105 years and its operations span school, higher education and academic streams. OUP’s success is a result of its distinctive capabilities of creating local responses to the needs of its customers – teachers, students and researchers. 

In India, OUP’s school education business has successfully responded to customer needs by developing pedagogically advanced content, teacher support material and digital and integrated learning resources. Its professional learning business, which focuses on English language learning, has developed unique bilingual learning material to enable adult learners learn English in their mother tongue. 

OUP’s growth in India, in addition to its inventive and steadfast approach to product development, has been propelled by a combination of factors such as a young demographic, rapidly increasing Internet penetration and growing digital adoptions -- all of which makes India a very exciting education market for the foreseeable future. 

How is the transition from print to digital shaping up in India?

India has the world’s second largest Internet user base after China. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s yearly report for 2016, India added 60 million new Internet users last year -- more than 90 per cent of India’s Internet users are now mobile Internet users. 

These technological advancements have also impacted the education sector in India. Students and teachers are now increasingly familiar with the usage of tablets, electronic boards and online platforms. That said, our experience suggests that each of these resources complements the textbook, which remains the core instructional and learning medium. Also, given India’s size and geographical disparity, we anticipate that the transition to digital will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. 

The emerging trend in the present context seems to be the demand for ‘integrated learning solutions’ that combine print with digital, both content and delivery, to create a pedagogically consistent environment for the learner. 

Is OUP looking at investing in the edtech start-up space in India?

OUP is conscious of the massive digitisation efforts in the education space, where edtech start-ups are playing a major role. We have made firm investments in R&D and digitisation through an internal digital innovation fund.  

In the UK, OUP has a close working relationship with an edtech start-up accelerator called Emerge Education. Emerge Education offers edtech start-ups the chance to gain expertise, customers and investment as they look to take their ventures to the next level. Last year, we made a minority investment in Emerge Venture Lab, the company behind Emerge Education. 

In India, OUP works with several entrepreneurial ventures and start-ups in the areas of content development, building of digital capabilities and the development of assessment solutions. We certainly do not rule out avenues of investment or close collaboration with an edtech start-up in India in the future ? we would consider it when we can see an obvious synergy between our strengths and that of the start-up, and where we can see that it will obviously improve educational outcomes.  

OUP has facilitated the training of nearly 100,000 teachers in India. How do you plan to build on this over the next two-three years?

We are very proud of our teacher training efforts, in India and also in other geographies. Last year, OUP trained 356,000 teachers around the world through a combination of face-to-face and online training programmes. We believe that the teacher is the principal pivot in the learning system and is best placed to drive improved learning outcomes and hence his own development is critical. 

In India, in addition to organising more than 1,500 face-to-face workshops last year, we launched the Online Teacher Training programme for wider reach and access. We also introduced the Oxford Teachers Academy (OTA) programme in India, which is certified by the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education (OUDCE). Teachers in India now have a range of ‘OUP Quality’ professional development offerings to choose from, and we remain committed to their continued development. 

Do you anticipate any impact of Brexit on OUP’s operations?

It is still too early to know what Brexit will mean for our operations. In the meantime, it is business as usual for us and our customers. We are still hiring staff from the European Union (EU) and sending people to work elsewhere in the EU. Long-term, Europe is an important market, but our business is a global one so we have opportunities in many places. We have a portfolio of sectors and geographies, and the great thing about a portfolio is the pluses can often outweigh the minuses.

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