New Delhi: Pearson Plc, which recently bought a controlling stake of Indian education company TutorVista, wants to shed public perception of a publishing firm and establish itself more as an education service provider. Pearson India chairman John Makinson, who recently visited New Delhi, said in an interview that school education is now one of its key focus in the country, which can be replicated in other nations such as South Africa. He also said the Indian government’s decision to open up the education market is a welcome move for global education firms. Edited excerpts:
How much is acquiring TutorVista going to help Pearson?
For the last three years, we have been focusing in the Indian education space. The two key areas are vocational education and school education space. Two years back, we had two partnerships, one with TutorVista, which was largely an online tutoring firm, and the other with Educomp Solutions Ltd, on vocational education.
Priority focus: Makinson says two key areas for the company in India are vocational education and schools. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
We had really not thought about the school education space. After talking to the TutorVista management, we realized they have a vision for school education. It sounded sensible to us and we thought of honing that in India. The challenge for a company like Pearson is it’s a large opportunity, which is scalable. It has to be delivered at a relatively low price. We have software, platform, we had other resources but we did not have the dedicated culture of growing schools. By combining the entrepreneurial skill of TutorVista with our global experience as a global education company, we thought we can achieve more success here.
Do you seek to grow as a bouquet in the education service sector by offering K-12 (class I through XII) education, vocational education and test-prep centres?
Yes, we see opportunity to grow in India in a whole lot of areas. We see opportunity in testing, in English language teaching, teachers training, in higher education space like curriculum designing. Some will be delivered through our partner Educomp Solutions in the vocational education space and some through this effort where we have acquired the majority stake in TutorVista. Some we may develop on our own. We will look at it case-by-case. If it is expanding schools we will do it through TutorVista and if it is college education (curricula and publishing), then we will do it by ourselves.
Running test-prep centres that coach students for engineering, management and medical colleges is a huge business. Will you focus on them?
Our general idea is to establish as an education service company and a technology-enabled service company. In test-prep, we may develop content, assessment capability. Maybe we will use some of the infrastructure of the TutorVista schools as test-prep centres, without opening a chain of test-prep centres across the country.
You have said that Indian education sector’s opening up is good for the world. Why do you think so?
I think there is a recognition in India that education is the fundamental enabler of India’s potential as a globally competitive service economy. If that is the target then education has to be in a broad way be the epicentre of government agenda... That recognition has led to a much more enlightened and open approach to education. There has to be a balance between public purpose and the commercial terms of education. We have to have a social purpose and a commercial purpose. I think the ministry of human resource development in the last two years has done a great job...
How much does India contribute to the kitty of Pearson?
At this moment a very small portion. We generally don’t split that number. But it is growing very rapidly. Today we employ 1,600 people in India. We will see that it grows.
TutorVista’s chief executive K. Ganesh says he sees this company a billion-dollar company in five years. If that happens, where do you see Pearson?
We want to establish ourselves as an education company (rather) than just a publishing company. There is a perception that Pearson is a textbook publisher, this should change. Yes, we do publish textbooks, but it is a pretty small proportion than what we do in education.
Largely, we are producing digitally enabled content that is embedded in learning platforms. We need to get some recognition for that. With TutorVista deal, the perception will shift a bit. Ganesh’s vision about the company is not unrealistic.
Will you take this K-12 education model to other countries where you are growing, such as Brazil and South Africa?
Yes, we will. It will be a two-way spread. In Brazil…we give all kind of content to schools and we will see if that can be brought to India. In turn, if we become successful managers of K-12 schools, then it can be exported to Brazil, South Africa. If we develop a model in India and it can be replicated, then we will do that for sure.