New Delhi: The century-old Oxford University Press (OUP) is branching out from publishing to becoming an integrated education services provider. In an interview, OUP global chief executive Nigel Portwood spoke about the company’s growth plan and attempts to collaborate with education technology start-ups in India to offer new services. Terming India a priority market, Portwood said OUP is entering education services like assessment and teachers training, among others. Edited excerpts:
From publishing, OUP seems to be diversifying. How are you going about it and where does India feature in it?
We have long understood the value of technology in making education effective. Technology is transforming...We can reach more people. Still, it’s a transition for us. We are learning new skills and what we think can teach ourselves is: learn from other people. We try to stay very close to innovators and new companies who are doing innovative and interesting things in technology space in respect to education and academic fields.
May be we can work together with them (education-tech start ups). All my senior management team are spending a day-and-a-half in meeting ed-tech companies in India. Technology is starting to get a hold on classrooms. India is a fast growing market in all statistics. The country and people believe in education and academic research. So it’s a perfect ground for us to expand our business.
Technology makes such a difference to all our activities – carry around, interactive, it links across multiple content, services like assessment, testing, teacher development.
What specific areas you are looking at in the ed-tech space?
I am looking at how they can help us or we can help them, which is mutually beneficial. I am looking for jointly developing ideas. These are the people who understand the market… maybe we can forge partnerships to form new ventures. All these things are possible. Financial partnership is a possibility.
Are you trying to re-invent OUP using technology as a key enabler?
We are evolving as a best publishing (organization) and publishing does not mean just books. We understand how people learn, how people can be taught, we understand research. We are not trying to change everything that we do. But build on our strength and adapt to the market. If we don’t, other organizations will satisfy the need of the students.
We learnt that you want to provide integrated school services in India. How are you going about it?
We can provide more help than just putting text books or materials into the schools. We can help them in curriculum design, structured lesson plans, how to manage student development, how to assess students along the way, their learning and make suggestions on how learning needs can be improved. (Also) professional development of teachers. It’s pulling several strands together.
Your previous organization Pearson Plc has a good presence in assessment space, and has also entered the education market in India. Do you see a similar situation emerging for OUP?
We compete in many markets. It’s not just my experience. In the assessment space we know how the teachers and students are progressing and the best way of measuring that is assessment. We don’t have an examination board (unlike Pearson), we are not doing the high-stake examinations. But along the way, we think assessment is a very valuable service and it goes nicely with materials.
Assessment has three segments: K-12, higher education and job market. Which segment is your target?
We are not looking at the jobs space. School and language learning is our strength internationally, (and that’s where) we are focusing.
You just said, if you don’t, others will seize the market? Please explain
There are some international players including us in India and some good local competition as well. But we are not complacent.
So, you are going to provide a clutch of allied services other than publishing?
India is already one of the top five markers for you. Give us your projections for India in terms of investment and revenue.
I will not be able to give any numbers. India is a great market. What we can learn in India, we can use it elsewhere. We have an academic and education mission. Our financial consideration is, can we do this for a long time. Is it sustainable? I have to be careful where I use my resources.
Since you spoke about technology adoption and increasing the efficiency, are you going to reduce number of people in your organisation?
No. We are in fact adding more people. Technology brings efficiency, that also mean people can be more productive.