Anthony Tattersall is the EMEA Vice-President of enterprise at Coursera, a company that partners with over 200 leading universities and firms to deliver flexible, affordable, job-relevant online learning to individuals and organisations worldwide. We spoke to Anthony to find out more about Coursera; its philosophy, courses, and vision for the future.
Education UAE: Can you talk a little about Coursera, its background, and its educational philosophy?
Anthony Tattersall: Coursera aims to create an ecosystem where anyone, anywhere in the world, can transform their life through learning. Launched in 2012 by two Stanford Computer Science professors – Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller – we are now one of the largest online learning platforms in the world, with 92 million registered learners as of 30 September 2021. Coursera has a three-sided platform that connects learners, educators, and institutions in a global learning ecosystem. We partner with over 250 leading university and industry partners to offer a broad catalogue of content and credentials, including guided projects, courses, specialisations, certificates, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Of our 92 million learners worldwide, more than 5 million live in the Middle East
EDUAE: The company offers a very broad portfolio of courses – what are its target markets and in which territories?
AT: Coursera is a global company with a global mission. Of our 92 million learners worldwide, more than 5 million live in the Middle East, including 412,000 new enrolments in the past quarter alone. We have seen over 550,000 of the UAE’s learners begin a learning journey on Coursera. We strive to reach learners, wherever they may be, through world-class online content, mobile, and hands-on learning experiences that can be tailored to their unique, individual needs. In the Middle East, we recently launched our right to left functionality for Arabic learners, and learners can now access an additional 2,000 courses on Coursera in Arabic. These include world-class courses from leading universities and industry leaders, including Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) by the University of Michigan, English for Career Development by the University of Pennsylvania, and Introduction to Machine Learning by Duke University.
EDUAE: Can you explain right-to-left functionality?
AT: Some estimates put today’s Arabic speakers at over 274 million. By displaying Arabic onscreen text from right-to-left, as is consistent with the written structure of the language, we allow Arabic enterprise learners on the platform to easily navigate Coursera, from our homepage, through our search and browse facilities, to enrolment, assessment, grading, notes, transcripts, and emails. Coursera’s Arabic learner experience will be transformed with this new feature.
EDUAE: There is a tremendous acceleration in online courses in the UAE, and in the medium to long term, this must be very positive for the nation’s economy?
AT: The growth in online course enrolments in the UAE is enabling the country to upskill at scale. This will enable the country to consolidate its status as the regional leader for Business skills, for which it is rated ‘Cutting Edge’, with 99% proficiency, in the most recent Coursera Global Skills Report. This strength is built on the high uptake of courses like English for Career Development (4th-most-popular in the UAE), Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills (6th-most-popular), and Financial Markets (7th). The Coursera Global Skills Report also finds that the UAE’s citizens are less proficient in technology skills (33% proficiency, rated ‘Emerging’) and data science skills (34% proficiency, rated ‘Emerging’). However, we are also seeing tens of thousands of learners across the country seek to upskill themselves in these domains. Also among the top ten courses in the UAE are Machine Learning (5th), Excel Skills for Business: Essentials (8th), and Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) (9th). Increased uptake of these courses will help to enhance the country’s skills profile and increase its economic competitiveness.
The number of university degrees offered on Coursera has risen 55% year on year
EDUAE: I understand you now offer over 2000 courses in Arabic; this seems quite a unique online offering in the educational landscape?
AT: Our Arabic-language offerings are essential to our expansion in the region, which has also seen us add four new Saudi Arabian partners in the last year to help meet learner demand. In total, we now offer 2,013 courses in Arabic, 413 of which are unique to the region. The remaining 1,600 are translations from the most popular courses we’re seeing on the platform, in other languages. In addition, we also offer subtitles for approximately 95% of all Arabic courses on the platform.
Among our top-rated translated courses are IBM’s ‘Python for Data Science, AI & Development’, and Stanford University’s ‘Machine Learning’, as well as Imperial College London’s ‘Science Matters: Let’s Talk About Covid-19’.
EDUAE: How cost-effective are your degree courses – I understand you offer tremendous value for 100% online courses from leading universities?
AT: Affordability is at the heart of our mission – many degrees on Coursera cost less than half of comparable on-campus programmes. We’ve been able to lower the cost of these programmes by making open courses a gateway to degrees. The large learner funnel created by these open courses (we have a global audience of more than 92 million learners) results in a very low customer acquisition cost for degrees. Universities are then able to pass those savings on to students. Recently, Coursera also announced a new tiered structure that offers universities one of the lowest service fees in the industry for online degree programmes: service fees progressively reduce from 40% to 25% of total tuition as universities grow their programmes. Coursera degrees have continued to grow in popularity: the number of university degrees offered on Coursera has risen 55% year on year. As of the end of June, 81% more students were enrolled in Coursera’s online degree programmes than the year before. Additional value is created by product innovations that enhance the student experience. These innovations include technology like video office hours and live sessions with professors, Slack integration to foster communication among classmates, remote-proctored exams, and coursework that can be completed via web or mobile app to ensure a flexible yet high-quality, interactive experience.
Coursera currently works with more than 175 universities and 75 industry partners worldwide
EDUAE: Which major companies and organisations use your services, and do you see this area of the business continuing to expand?
AT: Coursera currently works with more than 175 universities and 75 industry partners worldwide. The demand for technology skills is rising and some of the fastest paths to obtain job-relevant knowledge in this field are through courses offered by technology companies. Giants such as IBM, Google, and Facebook are empowering people around the world to learn in-demand skills quickly through courses on Coursera. We expect this list to expand steadily as more organisations discover the value of our platform and our approach. We also have many customers in the Middle East – organisations that use Coursera services to upskill students, employees, and citizens. Our regional partners include the Abu Dhabi School of Government, L’Université Hassan II de Casablanca, University of Jeddah, and Effat University.
EDUAE: Many people believe that Covid-19 can be a catalyst for change in education – how does Coursera view this?
AT: Covid-19 has already catalyzed change in education – it has catalyzed increased demand for, and uptake of, blended learning; and high levels of institutional collaboration with partners like Coursera to meet that demand: 47% of universities collaborated with other institutions to better serve students during Covid-19. Coursera saw a rapid increase in learner numbers and learning activity across its platform in the wake of the pandemic. In 2020, we gained 30 million new learners, 75 million new enrollments, and Coursera learners completed 576 million lectures and 123 million assessments. As campuses closed and the employment market transformed in the wake of Covid-19, the world responded with a rising need for flexible, accessible online learning. This need remains high. Technology has enabled learners to access high-quality education from anywhere in the world, and Covid-19 forced universities to adopt online and blended learning to a greater extent than ever before. A recent TopHat study suggests that 75% of students want continued access to video lectures, while nearly 60% of institutions are re-evaluating their online learning priorities. Covid-19 was a turning point for higher education. More than 30 million new learners registered on Coursera globally in 2020 alone, representing a 65% year-on-year growth. This forced adoption of online learning will lead to an enduring digital transformation of higher education and will be defined by blended classrooms, job-relevant education, and lifelong learning at work.
More than 30 million new learners registered on Coursera globally in 2020 alone
EDUAE: What is Coursera’s vision for the next five years?
AT: Over the next five years, the disruption caused by automation and the pandemic will continue to drive change across the world. For educational providers, the number of competitive alternatives will continue to increase, while learner adoption of more accessible, flexible alternatives will also rise. For providers to continue meeting learner needs at scale, institutional collaboration and partnerships will be critical. Institutions that take advantage of these collaborative opportunities will help drive change and mitigate the social inequities worsened by the pandemic. Technology will also continue to facilitate the rise of remote work, helping provide anyone, anywhere access to high-quality jobs, even if those jobs are not in their city, state, or even their country. Coursera will continue to act as a partner to learners, enterprises, and institutions as they align efforts to help drive a more inclusive and equitable recovery.