Udacity, the U.S. online education platform, conceived their Nanodegrees program as a way to create a certificate course directly aligned to the needs of the IT industry. Degrees are available online for a fixed fee and, like other online courses, schedules are flexible and can be completed at the student’s convenience. Students can enroll in nanodegree courses while pursuing traditional degree programs or employed elsewhere.
In collaboration with other multinational partners like Google, Facebook, Cloudera and AT&T, Udacity is offering courses on Android Developer, Tech Entrepreneur, iOS Developer and Data Analyst. Though there is no age bar for a nanodegree, most students who opt for the course are young graduates or undergraduates hoping for better career options as developers.
India is home to the world’s second largest pool of developers — almost seven percent of the number of nanodegree enrollees are from India. With this backdrop, it was only logical that Udacity should choose India as the first international destination to expand operations.
Udacity launched its Indian nanodegree program in September 2015 in partnership with Tata Trusts. The first program on offer is an Android nanodegree available in partnership with Google. The degree will be focused on app development and will be conducted by U.S.-based Google instructors. It’s hoped that the degree program will help increase the number of mobile developers in India developing global and local apps for Google. Full scholarships are also being given out to deserving students by Tata Trusts and Google.
At the program’s launch, Rajan Anandan, Google VP and MD for Southeast Asia and India, explained the goals of the program: “While India has millions of software developers, we still lag behind in creating world-class apps. With the launch of this program we want to bridge the gap by providing India’s developer community an easy access to learn and build high quality apps for the world.
“Today, only one percent of apps built in India feature in the top 1,000 apps globally and our goal is to raise this to 10 percent in next three years. We’re pleased to announce, that Google along with Tata Trusts will offer 500 free scholarships each to developers for the Android Developer Nanodegree program.”
The online program was available to students from India before September, but now Udacity has begun to accept payments in Indian Rupees. The courses can be taken for a payment of ₹ 9800 per month or roughly $150 (U.S.) which is about $50 (U.S.) less than the cost of completing the degree from outside of India.
Speed of completion is also an attractive feature. Students can expect to complete the degree within 6-to-12 months. Additional perks like a refund of half of the tuition costs upon completion of the course have also been introduced. Google also plans to host a job fair in India for nanodegree graduates and employers next year in Bengaluru.
Given the number of India’s skilled workers looking to augment their market value while continuing to study or work full time, the nanodegree market has significant growth potential grow. A large part of the technical workforce in India is equipped with general engineering degrees. A nanodegree can help develop skills in specific areas and increase employability for these general degrees holders.
A major challenge for Udacity’s India program is the cost of the degrees. Forbes Magazine pointed out correctly that, “The low cost of Nano-degrees makes it easier to earn them, so it’s feasible to get more than one.” This may not translate so easily in India where a cost of ₹ 9,800 a month (approximately $1,500 U.S.) for the entire degree is a large amount for Indian students.
One way to work around the challenge of cost could be for Udacity to partner with universities in the U.S. or Europe, and link part of the course content to courses from those universities. Almost all the memebers of India’s technical workforce come equipped with at least a graduate degree, and the degrees cost less when compared to the United States.
A large percentage of Indian degrees are financed via loans, but such loan amounts are small and usually paid off within 2-to-3 years after graduation. At this time, nanodegrees in India do not appear to have the same appeal as the same degree from an undergraduate institution in the United States. Indian students have always found foreign degrees attractive, and a nanodegree offered in conjunction with a foreign university might be a good way to attract students.
Udacity previously attempted just such a partnership with San Jose State University in California, but dropped the program after more than half the students failed to clear the exams. Reorganizing the evaluation process (as well as the course content) may help overcome this. As degrees from U.S. universities are in demand and valued significantly, a partnership with a university will increase the appeal of the degrees and attract more students from India to enrol, regardless of the costs.
Employability is another challenge to nanodegrees. As of now, Udacity hasn’t made much information available on job offers or salaries received by nanodegree holders and, given Google’s manpower count and Indian growth plans, not more than 10 percent of nanodegree holders are likely to receive job offers from the tech giant.
Will the students be placed in offices of Google outside of India? This is also not known. There is also scarce information about engagement of nanodegree Android developers in organizations outside of Google. Udacity needs to make previous placement details available and showcase the success stories aggressively to attract more students.
Collaboration with Indian IT firms may help further the goal of employability. Program content could be tailored to bridge the knowledge gap between graduates and industry expectations. Unfortunately, such collaboration has yet to occur at any significant rate.
Indian IT leaders are at best vaguely familiar, and at worst not familiar at all, with Udacity’s nanodegrees. And the awareness that does exist, which comes from all major newspapers like the Economic Times and Indian Express having covered the launch of the program, is likely to fade quickly. Awareness needs to be increased significantly if nanodegree graduates are to be absorbed into mid or entry levels in Indian companies.
As Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity said, “At the end of the day the true value proposition of education is employment.” Udacity has tried to achieve this important goal with the novel concept of tying up with big names in the Industry. It now needs to show results in terms of better employability so that it will be seen as a step ahead of the myriad of certificate courses available for Indian IT developers.