Some Thoughts on Online Education in China

I don’t think online education can or will replace the prestige of attendance at an established university in China or abroad, but I do believe it will complement it.  I had previously thought online education would allow for individuals who could not afford to study abroad to gain access to the resources provided at those foreign universities; however, I have found that Chinese students who study abroad are not evaluated on the content studied abroad but rather their experience.  Also, I have found that Chinese students are motivated to study abroad for 2 main reasons, which do not include access to foreign content: (1) It is a way to avoid the College National Exam / local university pressure and (2) younger students are able to enhance and practice their English (English is a school subject in China and is a full separate section on the College National Exam).  Additionally, this past October, a group of top Chinese universities partnered to launch their own MOOC and learning portal (similar to edX launched by Harvard, MIT and Berkeley).  Given these reason, I don’t think the online education opportunity is in traditional/higher education.

As China transitions from its manufacturing and export-dependent economy to a services and skills-based economy, it will require a more skilled workforce to meet those market demands, suggesting the need for increased vocational education opportunities.  That vocational education has been historically perceived as a low-status education compared to academic-based education (theory over practice belief), suggests that there is a strong divide between the two and students are unable to easily gain access to both.  This traditional ideology naturally encourages students to pursue an academic-based education, creating a workforce that is over-educated but under-skilled.  Additionally, given the competitive job market in China right now (~16% of the record ~7 million Chinese university graduates last year were unemployed), there is increased value in additional learning/training for individuals.  Finally, the need for innovation is necessary for China to maintain its growth, supply jobs and become a knowledge economy, and to fuel that innovation will require access to content beyond school borders and local resources.  This may be where the online education opportunity lies.

Of course, the challenge lies in Chinese government intervention and facilitation of online education.  So far, there are few foreign online education companies that have been able to successfully expand into China, with the exception of Coursera as of the end of last year, in which it partnered with an internet site to launch on that site.  And local companies will struggle to compete with the government/university-backed online offerings (especially if they start to offer not only academic courses but vocational/technical trainings) as they will find it difficult to compete for online enrollment of students and brand themselves as a credible learning site.  I think a company that is focused on offering courses and resources and building a community around a certain subject (become the go-to online destination to learn coding or personal finance or a language), such as Codecademy, will thrive given the current Chinese learning environment.

The Mentorship Opportunity

“If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person.”

–Reid Hoffman

Behind every successful person is a mentor.  A mentor can be a friend, family member, athletic coach, acquaintance or even a stranger.  But not all of these types of mentors are easily found.  Many overlook the importance of career mentors.  As students enter their first job or internship, they will discover that their professors’ syllabus did not cover e-mail etiquette, company politics, dress codes, politically-correct communication and industry-specific jargons, professional branding, importance of culture fit over work, career development tactics, etc.  The result of this lack of career guidance is what I call The Mentorship Opportunity.

The Mentorship Opportunity encompasses a number of initiatives that aims to connect a professional with a student or a professional with another professional who is looking to advance his or her career or transition into a new industry.  Companies that are doing this include Everwise and Clarity.

Everwise uses an indvidiual’s LinkedIn profile and a personalized questionnaire to pair an individual with a volunteer executive from a company with complementary skills.

Clarity helps connect mentors and individuals via phone calls. The mentor can either choose to talk for free or set a price for their time, and Clarity lets them either keep that money or donate it to a charity of their choice.

The challenge for these mentoring services is that they require constantly active users from both the mentor side and the mentee side.  Profitability is highly reliant on volume and user activity.  Inactivity from either the mentor or mentee of any of these services would result in a potential loss of users and impact the service’s credibility.  There is also the fear of one time users who sign on and are inactive after trial.  Finally, colleges are beginning to realize the power of the online alumni network and the demand for mentorship among their students and have started their own Free alumni network and mentoring platforms, questioning the sustainability of these independent mentorship service providers.  And as we all know, connecting with an alumnus is much easier than connecting with a stranger.  The opportunity lies in providing colleges with branded platforms and support features to help colleges grow their online community and reconnect with its alumni.  Additionally, an online alumni community complements the increase of educational offerings and resources online.

I am proud to say that my college UC San Diego has recently launched its own UC San Diego Alumni Advisor Network.  The Alumni Advisor Network was created through Evisors.com, an online mentorship platform.  Evisors University Solutions allows colleges to create a customized, branded platform for their students to connect with their alumni as well as alumni to connect with other alumni.  Students are able to search alumni by industry, employer, geography, services, languages and years of experience, and request and receive mock interviews, resume critiques and informational interviews from alumni.  Evisors also offers career webinars that typically cover an industry overview, how to land jobs in the industry and how to succeed on the job.  Evisors is trusted by over 50 universities.

In my junior and senior year of college, I struggled to reach the resources and individuals who would help me break into my first job.  Access to the professional world was limited on campus.  I was told by some professors that their advice may no longer be applicable because industries and recruiting processes have evolved.  They, too, advised that I reach out to current industry professionals.  It took a trip to New York and Los Angeles as well as numerous phone calls, e-mails and even handwritten letters to find the mentors who would reveal to me another world with a whole set of new rules.  My new mentors provided me with a new understanding and perspective on my industry of interest and offered me valuable advice as to where to start and how to enter.  These conversations and my network prove to be instrumental in my career.

I am excited that UCSD has taken on this initiative to help students in their next steps and is creating an online community that will bring together its alumni.

Go Tritons!