Ronnie Screwvala to set up Rs100 crore fund for online scholarships

Ronnie Screwvala, who runs the online education start-up, Upgrad, will set up the Rs100 crore online scholarships for professionals


Ronnie Screwvala is the former CEO and founder of UTV Group. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Ronnie Screwvala is the former CEO and founder of UTV Group. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Mumbai: Media and entertainment industry veteran Ronnie Screwvala, who runs online education start-up Upgrad, is planning to set up a Rs100 crore fund which will provide scholarships for professionals seeking to enhance their skills through online courses. 

In an interview, the former CEO and founder of UTV Group said he has already pledged Rs10 crore as initial corpus, and plans to raise Rs100 crore in the next 12 months. 

Scholarships ranging from 25,000 to Rs2 lakh will be given to working professionals looking to study or take up any course of their choice from any online platform and not restricted to Upgrad.

“The inspiration for the scholarship fund was really our experience over the last two years with Upgrad and understanding that the need to push the credibility of online learning as a viable option is still not there,” said Screwvala, adding that such a fund will help in bringing credibility to online education in the country.

In 2015, Screwvala along with Mayank Kumar, Ravijot Chugh and Prabhav Phalgun founded Upgrad, offering online courses in entrepreneurship, digital marketing, data analytics and product management for working professionals. It now runs nine programmes on data and digital, and has over 6,000 students (mainly working professionals) from across the country. 

Upgrad is also the official education partner of the government’s StartUp India programme where it offers a free four-week online course to entrepreneurs. However, its other courses typically run between nine and 11 months and cost between Rs50,000 and Rs2 lakh. So far, it has tied up with two institutes—International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Bengaluru and MICA (formerly known as Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad). It is currently in talks with three more institutes for partnership.

The fund would be raised mainly from high net worth individuals and companies, said Screwvala who has made investments in 14 firms— mostly start-ups including Zivame and Lenskart— through his venture capital firm Unilazer Ventures.

“The key criterion for selection outside of a normal aptitude test is that firstly, they should be working professionals... secondly for me personally, having seen what we have built, and me being an entrepreneur for the last 20 years, is attitude. So, when we are scrutinising people for the scholarship (it) is really going to boil down to attitude. If the attitude is right, your learning would be right,” he said.

Foreign online education companies such as Coursera and Udacity have gained wide popularity in India. Indian firms like EduReka and Simplilearn are also active in the space. Over a year ago, Tata Trusts chairman Ratan Tata invested in US-based non-profit Khan Academy to provide free online education to Indians.

“Online education is a must for India. Statistics are that about 120-130 million people in India should be doing higher education today but only 25 million are doing it… It’s not that they can’t afford it... It’s about I have to start working. So, online is a must to-do thing and the only thing is it should be credible,” Screwvala said.

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