India’s Education Market Prospects for Foreign Investors

India’s Education Market Prospects for Foreign Investors 

India is a nation of nations, its population is as diverse as it is humungous. Just by the virtue of being hugely populated, it is an enormous market.   

The nation’s demographics presents itself as a ripe opportunity for many sectors with as much as 50 percent of the population below 25. It is especially lucrative for enterprises in education and eduprenurship is seen as worthy of promotion for reaping the demographic dividend by the state.

Quantification of the market size arrives at encouraging estimates. Technopak reports suggest that India’s education market in 2016 was US$100 billion and by 2020 it is estimated to be around 170 billion US dollars.

India’s education market: Key growth drivers

The key drivers of the Indian market have changed significantly after the surge in telecom and internet availability. The relatively cheaper rates of these services in India account for the exceptional depth and rate of penetration that gives rise to online business opportunities.

In 2019, it was estimated that India has around 451 million monthly active Internet users. The figures put India among the top in the world in terms of the number of internet users, second only to China. If we look at the rate of internet penetration in 2109, it came out to be around 36 percent. In 2021 it is expected to rise and the figures are expected to reach 829 million users.  

As for telecom penetration, the number of smartphone users in India is projected to total 859 million users by 2022. That is an 84 percent increase from 2017, when the number of smartphone users stood at 468 million.

These figures are indicative of a huge potential for the online education market in India and the state of Indian traditional schools being what it is, there is all the more reason to look forward to the rise and mainstreaming of online education. It is a common observation that quality 21st century –skills-based education at the school level in India is in many ways limited to good private schools and select government-aided schools. This leaves the majority of school children to be served by mediocre schools which results in sub-par learning outcomes. Naturally, there is a vacuum that is beginning to be filled by ambitious private players, most prominent among them being the educational platforms like BYJU’s and Unacademy. They have approached education in a dramatically different and innovative manner. They have leveraged technology to provide highly interactive and engaging learning modules. The platforms like BYJUS’s have not supplanted the conventional classes, they have just provided a way to supplement the learning that the children receive at their schools, driving the learning outcomes up.

Both these educational innovators are based in Bangalore and count Sequoia and General Atlantic among their investors. These platforms have distinguished themselves by employing the expertise of veterans and focusing on the practical applications of the concepts, reducing the gulf between theory and practice by a great measure.

In making a case for online and innovative educational solutions in India, it is useful to point out that there is a chronic shortage of seats in undergraduate courses. To offset the effects of the scarcity of seats Open and Distance Learning was promoted, however, there are few universities and colleges that offer distance learning programmes. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Dr. B.R. Amedkar Open University (BRAOU), Hyderabad, and the Nalanda Open University (NOU), Patna are among the most sought after ones. Open and distance learning is a valued model yet it has a few disadvantages, the foremost being the sub-par credibility and repute among potential employers. The students of the ODL are seldom treated as equal to their regular college-going counterparts and that lowers the desirability of ODL. India still needs platforms that do not face these drawbacks and the Unacademy and BYJU’s may in the future upgrade themselves and inspire others to enter the fray and provide high-quality distance education which is on par, or even superior to the conventional brick and mortar college education.

How India is making investment opportunities more accessible

As far as E-learning market potential is concerned, India stands second only to the US. The user base is projected to widen to reach the 9.5 million mark and the market size is projected to touch 1.96 billion US dollars by the end of 2021.

The investment in the education sector in general and the online education sector, in particular, is dependent upon the nation’s educational environment and the levels of accessibility that it affords to the students at not just primary but also secondary and tertiary levels. On the parameter of accessibility of secondary and tertiary education, the governments within the Indian union have taken some notable steps--

The Public-private partnership model promotion—the states have attempted to encourage private players and evolve a collaborative model in education. In a notable instance, the Maharashtra International Education Board (MIEB) initiated a collaboration agreement with Google Inc. it is easy to guess that the collaboration aimed at securing gains in the Edtech arena. A wide array of technologies were to be instrumentalized under this understanding, these included Google Classroom and G Suite for Education. Although MIEB, as of 2020, has been shelved, it provides us a study into the line of thinking of the states with regard to the PPP in education.

Promotion of FDI in education—the government of India has offered to permit 100 percent FDI under the automatic route. This step was effective in bringing FDI to the tune of 3 billion dollars in education in the years between 2000 and 2019. Again, the notable educational enterprise leads the way by receiving around 150 million US dollars in funding from the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).

New education policy and the proposals regarding early childhood education---the National Education Policy has made several ground-breaking pronouncements, the proposal to integrate early childhood education i.e. preschooling to the standard schooling system is one of the major ones. Other policy shifts that are heralded by the NEP include the exam reforms, teacher training infrastructural improvement, National Curriculum Framework, and restructuring of the regulatory frameworks. These policies are expected to add value to the entire education system in general, and the emphasis on efficiency indicates that the reliance on technology will rise, in fact, the NEP discusses the use of digital technology in education, on a large scale, as an inevitability.

Proposal regarding External Commercial Borrowings (ECBs)—enabling ECBs to fund education projects in India is aimed at incentivizing enterprise in education in yet another big way. It is bound to give rise to a more favorable environment for business growth in education and in time, the entire educational infrastructure and educational systems might see a makeover.   

The promotion of Online education is not just apparent in the systemic and policy level and economy-related initiatives, there are other interventions that are notable for their promotional effect on online education in India. These are related to the direct introduction of online education in school systems and classes. A few of them are listed as follows--

Extensive use of technology and early introduction of ICT into the curriculum— an orientation drive began in 2018 involving 800 + ICT personnel/master trainers for restructuring curriculum for teacher training in ICT.

e-pathshala—this resource was developed by the NCERT for the promotion of online education.

National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) initiated the work in the collation of comprehensive material to be used at all stages of teacher and student education. An impressive compendium enriched with audio, videos, images, and documents is available on the portal.

‘Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds’ (SWAYAM)—the portal is a rich repository of online course material for high school, undergraduate and post-graduate levels. NIOS and other agencies utilize SWAYAM resources in their delivery models

National Digital Library of India (NDL) is an online repository of learning resources with more than 15.3 million digital books available online.


It is reasonable to conclude, in the light of the above-mentioned facets of the Indian market, that India is an ideal destination for the edutech platforms. What contributes to its promise is that India has a cost-efficient software industry, which, coupled with its huge population, constructs an ideal market profile.  

Growth opportunities amid the coronavirus outbreak

Covid-19 has proven to be the single biggest exogenous factor that had contributed to the growth of online education. The pandemic elevated online education from an innovative value-adding supplement to a necessity. The year-long acute journey from being a fad to becoming a convention would not have been conceivable without the externality which the lockdown proved to be.

UNESCO reported that 91 percent of the entire world’s student population was affected by the pandemic and the lockdowns that it induced. Like in the other parts of the world, India saw a stringent and widespread lockdown impacting 320 million learners. In such a scenario, the schools had to make a transition to virtual modes. However, the adoption of technology remained a challenge for a majority due to the unavailability of necessary apparatus. As a result, many students fell off the grid.

This inequity was glaring enough to awaken the states to the need for putting in place infrastructure that allows children to receive education and that further expanded the possibilities for the ed-tech platforms. The online platforms that saw an unprecedented and unexpected rise in the user base include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, etc.,

Besides conventional schooling, the training for competitive examinations also went online. This happened across the major centers like Kota, Delhi, Kanpur, etc.

Another segment that utilized online mode extensively is Vocational training. It was very unusual even unthinkable for the vocational training institutions to replace the hands-on, close observation-based training models with online modules. At any rate, online models did take shape for almost all the vocational courses and the online platforms got a bonus fillip.

Multinationals joined the fray and big players like TCS, Microsoft, and Google offered virtual access platforms, some of which were free. TCS’s virtual learning platform, TCS iON Digital Glass Room got very popular. As for Microsoft, its Microsoft teams found renewed popularity among Indian schools and Google Meet followed suit.

The online education providers found their user base to grow exponentially throughout the period of the lockdown. The leading among them being the Unacademy and BYJU’s. the latter registered a 60 percent growth in its new user base after it introduced a free version of the classes. The platform has a different profile of students and serves different need profiles. While the students of the higher classes seek them for revision, the younger students find them useful to gain familiarity with concepts in an interactive way. As for the Unacademy, it has been reported providing as many as 20,000 live classes, all of them free and that has trebled its growth in March 2020. The daily use time of the free classes of Unacademy was 30 million minutes.

There are other edutech companies like Classplus and Extramarks that catered to the students by providing innovative solutions in the course of the pandemic.

India’s online education market outlook

In the course of the pandemic, the scenario for online education has changed to an unprecedented degree and the acceptability it has acquired among a section of the population is expected to sustain even after the normalcy is restored and the students start going to the schools again. The use of online resources got mainstreamed in 2020 and the avenues it opened up for students will retain their charm for them. Now, it remains to be seen how the schools and the classroom instruction they provide adopt the online platforms to enhance the learning outcomes. The edutech platforms are expected to rebrand their offerings to aim at achieving synergy with conventional classroom instruction.  


Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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