“Education is embedded in our value system”
says Sivaramakrishnan V (Siva), managing director of Oxford University Press (OUP) in conversation with Varsha Verma.
“A developed education society is one where the role of teacher and teaching profession is aspirational. In India, education is embedded in our value system. Every parent, across any strata, aspires for his or her child to be educated. Also, education is relatively affordable in India and the whole process of reverse innovation is happening in India, making online content more accessible through technology,” says Sivaramakrishnan V (Siva), managing director of Oxford University Press (OUP) – India Branch, with regional responsibilities including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.
The expertise & experience…
Siva has extensive experience in the Education Services, e-commerce, automobile and FMCG domains. In his previous assignment, Siva was executive president – Education Services at Manipal Global Education Services (MaGE), one the country’s largest privately owned higher education and training services providers. He also spent nearly ten years with the Ford Motor Company–including time based in the UK and US–and held various consumer branding roles within Proctor and Gamble. So, how has been the transition from FMCG to cars to education industry? “Throughout my career, what’s been consistent is that all the brands had strong focus on discovering or uncovering consumer needs, fulfilling them and then taking that fulfilment to the market. Secondly, all of them had increasing levels of technology play on the path of the consumer. Third, along the way, as you grow, domain knowledge becomes 10% of what you are and people, behaviour and experience become 90%. So, it is impervious to the sector,” replies Siva. “For the last 10 years, I have been in the education sector – almost all of them focusing on content and its delivery.”
Education industry makeover…
Since Siva has been into the education industry for a decade now, what are the major changes he has witnessed? “Technology is the biggest influence in the education industry. There are two areas in technology which have transformed education – first is the digitisation process, curation and consumption, which has had a positive impact on all these areas, cutting down lead time, costs, etc. The second part of technology is device, which has transformed from a large vertical one to small flat devices. Vertical devices failed in education because it was not a sticky device. While, the flat device is like a book and it offers all three features – information, entertainment and education. A lot of features in the devices today are driven by education. The cost of devices too has come down drastically, making it more affordable,” says Siva as a matter of fact.
Another important change that Siva enumerates is content, which has changed dramatically. “Every piece of content was like a dictionary. Now, we have chunks of content vs. big content, which has aided technology. Hence, there is more reusability and curation of content. Then, there is lot of interactive content. Every publisher today has ebooks to supplement print books. Besides, content is no longer only in the purview of subject matter expert but instructional design and technology have become the key part of content formulation,” shares Siva.
“The third thing that has changed dramatically is the consumer of the content. I believe that children born after 2000, by the time they reach the age of higher education, would consume educational content very differently,” he adds.
Siva also feels that schools have been more progressive towards change than higher education segment. “The pedagogy and content of schools has improved a lot,” he says. “This has much to do with the boards like ICSE, CBSE and state boards. The project work, assignments and assessments have changed dramatically and a lot of them are driven by technology and data,” tells Siva.
“Besides, e commerce is emerging as a very significant distribution channel, more so in higher education segment and less in school segment at the moment,” adds Siva.
Embracing the digital revolution…
“Digital is an opportunity for publishing, not a challenge. The publishing sector has completely embraced digital, in some ways more than others. Digital forms of content and representation, ebooks, subscription to clouds/libraries, ejournals – publishers have embraced it all – it has driven down cost and increased repetitive access,” tells Siva.
“For publishers like OUP, institution, teachers and students – all are important. Print is at the core, especially in K-12 segment,” shares Siva. “Infact, print has gained volume in the toughest market – US, which is a clear indication that there is no debate on print vs. digital. Print is here to stay. Besides, there is a lot of research going on about the seriousness of reading vs. lightness of reading. It is seen that it is ok to skim through digital content but for a more serious reading, print is important.”
On teaching English to young adults…
Siva states that OUP has leveraged its traditional strength in English Language Teaching (ELT) by developing a strong Adult ELT programme in India targeted at students enrolled in Higher Education and those seeking employment. “As one example, OUP has made it possible for vernacular learners to learn English through their mother tongue, by developing bilingual learning materials – dictionaries and grammar books,” he says.
He further adds, “OUP’s bilingual dictionaries cover 9 Indian languages (3 more will be added within the next 2 years). The bilingual Grammar series, English Grammar Just For You, is available in 10 Indian languages.”
“Our biggest part of offering in India is K-12; we are market leaders in this fractured market. Last year has been a very strong year for us. We do not focus on revenue growth. We measure our growth in units and I am pleased to share that we are growing very strong in units as revenue by itself is a reflection of multiple things. For OUP globally, India is one of the five biggest markets in the world. There is still appetite for more in India,” shares Siva. “Infact, Oxford University Press has decided to partner with Cognizant Technology Solutions as it moves towards becoming a more technology and digital driven business.”
Taking about the key focus areas at OUP, he shares, “OUP is focusing more on teachers and teaching resources. Teacher resource is another main area which publishers are focusing on. Every single book from Oxford University Press goes with teacher resources. Then, we have Oxford Educate, which offers premium features of Learning Management System, Assessments and advanced e-Readers for schools who want to adopt a complete digital learning solution.”
OUP has taken a step further and providing teachers training workshops. “Last year, we conducted over 1500 training workshops and trained approximately 1,00,000 teachers by engaging certified teacher trainers,” tells Siva.
“Besides, we are trying to capture the data and reporting to further improve our content. We are also seriously looking at the role of technology and devices in the back-end, across our supply chain, deliveries, etc. We are also trying to focus on improving our publishing process like creative, design, content, copyrights, etc,” adds Siva.
OUP is also focusing on higher education segment, which is the fastest growing segment as it is an adoption driven business. “We even offer tailor-made content for various institutes,” adds Siva. “Besides, OUP is also coming up with some good books in the academic segment.”
On distribution channels…
“On the business process side, adoption by an institution is fundamental to the way we operate. Our sales team is in touch with them directly. In the higher education space, the consumer can reach us directly or through booksellers. K-12 is a prescribed market while higher ed is a suggested market. So our distribution system is geared to fulfil the adoption cycle as applicable. Last year, we shipped approximately 22.3 million units, of which 90% were indigenously produced,” tells Siva.
Advice to educators for selecting the right books…
“Education is not different than any other sector and teachers should have a choice of products and education services. The brand and quality is very important. It has to be consistent over time. The quality should be good and there should be no room for errors. At OUP, quality is hygiene,” tells Siva.
“Then the entire pedagogy is important. The teacher has to teach young impressionable minds. We do a huge amount of robust content creating too as per our publishing process, which involves extensive involvement of teachers. Sometimes, parents also suggest schools to use books from a particular publisher as they know which books are good too,” shares Siva.
Talking about the discounts in the segment, Siva feels that it is a big challenge, besides piracy. “It is detrimental to the way you do business. But, our ethics remain the same worldwide, we do not believe in any kind of facilitation payments and we give the same discounts to all the booksellers,” he adds.
On measuring learning outcomes…
“A critical measure in OUP’s Mission Success Factors is the impact on classroom learning outcomes because of our learning materials. The Oxford Impact Framework (OIF), as we call it, helps us measure the impact of our products in overall learning outcomes. We partner with third party experts who conduct these researches on our behalf, ensuring that the process is unbiased” says Siva.
He adds, “At some point in the future, we would like to put out these reports in the public domain to share more broadly the insights that one can get about education delivery and classroom learning.”
On a concluding note…
“Structurally, we need to do a lot to enhance access and equity in the education sector. We need to have a flexible choice based curriculum. Besides, India also needs a lot of skilled manpower. Hence, there is a need for more vocational training colleges. Having said that, there has been a lot of improvement in the education segment and publishers like OUP are trying their best to meet the changing needs,” concludes Siva.