Education services

Growing demand and new means of learning are opening up opportunities for private companies

In emerging markets, an expanding middle class is becoming ever more aware of the economic rewards offered by education. In Brazil, for example, a university graduate can expect to earn around 130% more than a less educated peer, according to data from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The average premium for rich nations is a more modest but still hefty 48%.

While nearly two-thirds of US citizens attended college as of 2013, just 31% of Brazilians did and 19% of Indians. That leaves plenty of room for catch-up, especially as climbing incomes mean that more people are able and willing to pay for schooling. For example, the percentage of family income devoted to education rose 13-fold in China between 1985 and 2012, figures by Xueda show.

The changing face of education

Meanwhile in developed nations, a more fluid employment market encourages workers to continue training long after finishing formal education. US workers under 32 years of age typically change jobs four times in their first decade in the labor market, twice the amount of career switching of the previous generation, according to a 2016 LinkedIn study. In addition, advances in technology, including robotics and artificial intelligence, can be expected to displace more workers in coming decades, encouraging a greater number of them to acquire new skills.

Globally, demand for education and training is growing at roughly twice the pace of economic output. This has left governments struggling to keep pace, especially at a time of high fiscal deficits and rising debt in many countries. Increasingly, the spending gulf is creating opportunities for corporations.

"It is in the areas of professional training, language tuition, and standardized testing that governments are playing second fiddle to a burgeoning number of private sector firms. And the share of the higher education market that these private firms have is also expanding fast." In Brazil, for example, increased demand for higher education is partly being satisfied by for-profit firms. Three-quarters of Brazil’s seven million university students currently study in private institutions.

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A technical revolution brings education to the masses.

Technology is a major force enabling companies to access an even wider market.

Businesses in Kenya, for example are taking advantage of the near-universal use of cell phones in Africa even among low income groups. Partnering with regional universities, they are offering interactive courses designed for mobile devices.

Meanwhile, online tutorials can reach students in a more cost-effective way, with a low incremental cost per additional student. This is a potential recipe for higher profit margins. A study by former Princeton University President William Bowen found that switching from a traditional college teaching model to a hybrid online format could cut staffing costs by 37-57%. And that did not include the potential savings from needing fewer buildings on campus.

The efficiencies of this approach can be gauged from the experience of the Khan Academy, a non-profit online tuition provider that serves 15 million users per month on an annual budget of just USD 24m and with a staff of just 100 people.

The demand for education is on that has never stopped rising. As the world looks to the future, private sector funding into specialized, alternative and higher education will be key to everyone’s success.

The difficulty of getting to a classroom made it unfeasible for many people to acquire education or training, whether they lived in remote areas or because they needed to work during the day.

Gerard Robinson, an education expert at the American Enterprise Institute

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