London & Partners is the official promotional agency for the city of London, aimed at working on the priorities set by the Mayor of London. It is the Mayor of London’s business growth and destination agency for the city, which undertakes international trade investment, while globally promoting the city. In an exclusive interaction with Financial Express Online’s Bulbul Dhawan, London & Partners Managing Director for Business Janet Coyle spoke about the partnership between London and India in the EdTech sector. Edited excerpts:
How has the education sector been impacted by the pandemic?
With the pandemic we have seen some sectors experience accelerated growth and that very much includes EdTech. The opportunity for companies in EdTech has really expanded and what we’re seeing is EdTech as a sort of global trend. We’re seeing that more tech companies are going into this space. We track a lot of VC investments and we found that the actual investment in EdTech has increased 124% year-on-year. So as compared to 2019, the global EdTech investment in 2020 went up by 124%, going from $6.6 billion in 2019 to $14.8 billion in 2020. This is significant in itself.
We’re also seeing a lot more investment in London. It is the number one city in Europe for Edtech investment. The valuations of the sector in London stand at about $3.4 billion, while Paris is like $1.9 billion. So, it is way ahead of other European cities in terms of the valuations.
In terms of India specifically, the EdTech market is estimated to more than triple in the next five years, which is why we are so interested in more collaboration with India. There’s a huge opportunity there for collaboration. India currently has about 4,500 EdTech start-ups, and I’m sure that is increasing by the day as they really sort of ride on the incredible growth. India also had a market of about 400 million learners, and that’s what attracts a lot of the EdTech companies, because they are looking for a market where they can test their products and they can do a lot of user testing. The internet mobile penetration in India is also driving this growth, as there are about 743 million internet subscribers in India. It’s a huge market.
Although London doesn’t have quite the same volume of users, when we look at London as against other European cities, we are sort of way ahead in terms of the scale of the EdTech companies.
So, both the UK and India are at the forefront of this growth and if we work together, we can really harness these opportunities for the benefit of both the countries. And London is keen to drive this collaboration forward.
What more are you looking for in the partnership between India and London in the sector of education and EdTech?
India and the UK are so strong in technology and have sort of been trading with each other for hundreds of years. So, the partnership is already very strong. We’ve run a virtual trade mission to India recently to try and connect quite a lot of our fast growth EdTech companies to some of Indian EdTech companies and potential partners. We hope to do more of that to bring the communities together. Now, we can do that virtually, and when the time is right, we can welcome some of the Indian businesses over to London and connect them into our ecosystem.
We have had some recent success from some of our companies who are expanding into India, one example of which is the Oxford summer courses. They’ve been running an academic course at Oakridge International School in Bengaluru. So, we can collaborate on both sides.
We can access the opportunities both in India and in London and the wider UK, and then actively make those connections because that’s what these EdTech companies need. They need to understand the market, they need access to capital, they need access to the education facilities, and they need access to universities. We can certainly do that for any of the Indian companies looking to access the academic institutions here in London. We have four of the top 50 universities in London and they are very much open to collaborating with EdTech companies.
So, I feel that there are several ways we can proactively collaborate.
India has seen a very rapid adoption of EdTech platforms, especially during the pandemic. Has a similar trend been observed in London as well?
During the pandemic, we have been tracking a lot of the investment into companies. In London specifically, the VC investment has pretty much doubled. There are several businesses who are experiencing that growth. What we are seeing is that EdTech is way beyond the classroom now, and it has become an important way of learning at all ages. So, we have seen a huge increase. Which is why the EdTech sector is really taking off globally.
Schools have started reopening now. But EdTech has expanded on a scale which is probably here to stay. What do you think is the trajectory for the EdTech sector henceforth?
Globally we need to be looking long-term at this pandemic. We are hoping that we would not go back into lockdown and remote learning, but there is a chance that we might. I believe the EdTech sector will continue to grow. There have been quite a lot of learnings from this experience and there have been some real benefits in terms of online learning for certain age groups.
We have learnt so much around digital platforms and the benefits of learning. As an example, we have done our own executive education programme over the last few months for heads of innovation across big corporates on a zoom platform. They have connected brilliantly, more than we would have ever thought was possible. Now, it means that they don’t have to travel across London or across the UK to join each other. We can just do these two-hour modules every week.
So, the way we are going is more of a hybrid model going forward, and I think that will be here to stay.
What aspects of learning do you see going back to the offline classrooms once the pandemic is over?
It will be segmented by age. So, the early learners or the primary school-level learning, between ages 5-11, will predominantly be offline because they don’t have the same attention span. It does not feel as easy for them to be learning. However, some of the homework could be more online because they have found really good ways of teaching this way.
Then you get into secondary learning, between ages 11 to 18, and more specifically from 16 to 18, where they do much more independent learning. Now, we can continue with online learning for them because they have been able to learn this way more independently. But, they would still be a need to bring these students together too, especially in things like Sciences for when you are doing experiments or designing technology or art, or those creative classes for which you need to be in a room with all the right tools.
But, we also have to think about the access for all going forward. We need to make sure that we are providing the students with a level playing field. We would absolutely need to make sure that everyone has absolutely the same access and benefit of education. That’s where a classroom style of teaching helps in addressing that disparity.
Moreover, a lot is self-learning, so again, a lot of these EdTech platforms will remain beyond the pandemic because I think they found new ways of delivering high-quality University courses. Yes, there is still a need to bring students together in a lecture room to debate, to discuss, to have tutorials, but they have probably improved the quality of the online learning. What they have done is created an opportunity to have global discussions which were never present before
How has the pandemic and online education been for teachers?
It’s been the real challenge for teachers in London for probably three reasons. They have had to adapt to a new way of teaching. Second, some of them have had their own children at home, so they are also having to juggle teaching as well as probably having their own children at home. A lot of them have also actually been teaching from schools because the schools have been staying open to teach the children of key workers.
Mental health is important and making sure that the teachers are supported in order to cope with the pressures that they are under is something that we have been looking at in the UK along with how to support teachers as key workers.
Like you said, India has over 4,500 EdTech startups. Are there some unique ones in London that can probably offer something new to students in India?
To name a few, there is a startup called ‘Note Taking Express’ which provides note taking services and software for students with learning and hearing disabilities. Another one is ‘Atom Learning’ which is meant for students aged 7-12 years and it combines teacher-written content with sophisticated technology. There is one platform called ‘The Social Book Club’, which is a child-centric online platform of diverse tools to help inform and support children. They offer several digital, audio and video stories on a variety of topical themes like mental health and wellbeing, prejudice, bullying, etc. All of these platforms are looking to expand to India.
India has a large student base, but there is also disparity in terms of internet connectivity. How are London-based EdTech platforms planning to work with that issue?
It is a global challenge, and I can acknowledge how big that issue in India is. These companies are so reliant on broadband and Wi-Fi, so that is a big infrastructure issue. There has been a huge demand for infrastructure here in the UK, but I would imagine that it doesn’t really compare to the scale in India.
So, at our end, we can try to explore how EdTech companies have tackled that issue in London itself. I would imagine that they have focused on cities that do have probably better broadband, if I’m being honest, which makes me concerned regarding the divide in opportunities between urban and rural areas.