4 minute read  written by  . Published on January 26, 2016

On January 15 in Mumbai, the online education major edX, represented by its CEO Anant Agarwal, and India’s Bennett University, represented by its Chancellor Vineet Jain, signed an agreement for collaboration.

Given that Bennett University is still yet to launch (its first academic session will begin in July 2016), seasoned observers will wonder why edX, the storied online education provider and MOOC major, is collaborating with a nascent and relatively unknown university out of India.

Bennett is a less-known higher education brand for now, but its parent company’s media brands, such as The Times of India, The Economic Times, Times Now, and Radio Mirchi, are all well-known household names in India. Given this lineage, the group’s desire to expand into education as a key thrust area, and the fact that the university’s launch is underway, Bennett University is unlikely to remain unknown much longer.

As part of the leadership team that is kickstarting Bennett University, I have had a ringside view of the discussions leading to the agreement. I am happy to take the readers of Class Central through the key tenets of this agreement and the importance it holds for learners in India and throughout the world.

Let us look at what the agreement implies for each party.

What will edX do and what does it gain?

  • EdX becomes a preferred provider of MOOCs to Bennett University as the latter seeks to build its blended on-campus model. EdX will also make available to Bennett features such as Private Cohorts within edX hosted courses on the edx.org platform, or other, newer group initiatives when such features becomes available.
  • EdX will help train Bennett University faculty and staff in building MOOC courses offered on edX. In addition it will also help Bennett in creating, setting up, and hosting its own version of courses on the Open edX platform.
  • EdX will also benefit from the ability that Bennett University and its parent, Times Group, have in reaching potential learners throughout India, which is edX’s second biggest market, with over 700,000 learners, and has the scope to be even bigger.

What does the agreement do for Bennett?

Before we get to that, it is important to understand Bennett’s motivations. Launching in 2016, when online education is transforming education as we know it, Bennett has the unique opportunity and the luxury to design its campus, curricula, and business model as a genuine post-digital university: one that takes into account the transformative power of online education and blend this with the best of traditional classroom learning. In doing that, Bennett has to carefully navigate the regulatory strictures that govern Indian higher education, even as it pioneers the first-ever blended delivery model for the Indian market.

  • Bennett gets access to edX and its huge knowledge base while creating a blended curriculum. Its Vice-Chancellor designate, Dr Yaj Medury, is keen to have anywhere from 8-15% of credits be availed online. This doesnt seem much in a western context, but in India — where education is hidebound by archaic regulatory norms — this is revolutionary. To help drive these innovations, and to help support and train its faculty, Bennett needs a partner like edX.
  • Bennett is also keen to explore online models in education to reach students outside the university. These could be through certificate or short-term courses. Indian universities such as Bennett are barred from launching online “degree” programs in the first five years of operations, but this doesn’t stop them from offering non-degree courses, and this is an opportunity that Bennett has. Given this, who better than edX to advise or partner Bennett?
  • In addition, Bennett also benefits from having Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, join its International Advisory Board, offering advice on how Bennett should envision itself as India’s first post-digital university.

Thus, in the long run and as the agreement evolves, Bennett University could emerge as the first port of call for edX in India as it experiments with localized variations of MicroMasters, or in creating Indian versions of MicroMasters or XSeries. And, over time, edX has an opportunity to leverage its association with Bennett and Times Group to expand and scale its offerings across the Indian market.

Sajith looks after Marketing and Outreach for Bennett University, Times Group’s higher education initiative. He has been with the University from its very beginnings, when it was just a potential idea for exploration. Previously he worked with Times Group’s publishing and music arms, across strategy, marketing and business development. He writes on media and education industry economics at sajithpai.com and tweets at @sajithpai. He is based in Delhi.