Online learning platform Coursera targets growth of over 30% in Middle East business

The company’s three most popular courses in the region are business studies, data science and healthcare

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , Feb 13  – 2020 :- Jeff Maggioncalda,  Chief Executive Officer of Coursera at the One JLT tower in Jumeirah Lake Towers in Dubai.  (Pawan  Singh / The National) For Business. Story by Alkesh
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Online learning platform Coursera aims to grow its Middle East business by more than 30 per cent this year – outpacing its global average. The online learning platform wants to expand its local footprint and translate more courses into Arabic for increased enrolments.

The California company will focus on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the Arab world’s two biggest economies, to drive growth, its chief executive said.

"We expect our overall global business – both revenues and subscribers – to grow at almost 30 per cent …  [but] our Middle East business will grow even faster," Jeff Maggioncalda told The National.

Last year, the company's Coursera-for-business segment grew 75 per cent while other segments, such as courses for consumers, grew almost 50 per cent. The platform offers 4,000 different courses in partnership with 200 universities and industry partners.

"The Coursera-for-business segment grew fastest. In the Middle East, we are in the initial stages of this segment. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are emerging very rapidly, so we expect impressive growth in this domain," said Mr Maggioncalda.

Coursera, which agreed to provide courses for the state-funded Abu Dhabi School of Government last year, wants to translate more courses into Arabic to snag a larger market share of the online learning industry in the region. "We were not doing Arabic translations professionally until the Abu Dhabi deal. We started doing it to ensure that government employees get high-quality study material," he added.

Last year, Coursera translated 100 courses, including 30 full translations and 70 with subtitles. It now plans to translate another 25 to 50 courses that are popular in the UAE.

The three most sought after courses offered by Coursera in the region are related to business studies, data science and health care.

The company’s partnership with the Abu Dhabi School of Government has driven up enrolments from the public sector. Since the agreement, more than 200,000 learning hours were delivered and about 40,000 government employees have enrolled on Coursera, Mr Maggioncalda said.

This deal formed an important part of the Ghadan 21 programme that aims to improve the competitiveness of Abu Dhabi in four key areas, including knowledge and innovation.

Coursera has 2.5 million subscribers in the region – almost a quarter of which are in Saudi Arabia (340,000) and the UAE (245,000).

Some of the website's local clients include Dubai Asset Management, Tecom, Etihad Airways, MBS School of Cybersecurity and Emerging Technologies and the Saudi National IT Academy.

In April last year, Coursera raised $103 million (Dh378.01m) in a Series E equity round led by Seek Group, with participation from the Future Fund and New Enterprise Associates. The company, founded in 2012, had previously raised $210m from other investors including NEA, Kleiner Perkins and GSV Asset Management.

"So far we have raised more than $300m and as of now we have sufficient funds to scale our business," said Mr Maggioncalda. The company is not looking to raise any fresh capital and is investing in "improving customer service, technology and hiring new talent", he added.

Mr Maggioncalda, who joined the company in 2017, said Coursera could go public in future but did not give a timeline.

“Going public is definitely on our horizon … I could see a world where we will go public at some point but it is too early to comment. Currently, we don’t need new money and we are growing nicely.”

Coursera has yet to make a profit, but aims to do so soon.

“We are not profitable because we are investing rigorously in scaling our business We recently opened our Toronto office and took over a company in Sofia.”

Whenever an opportunity comes, “We can’t ignore and have to invest more … ensuring profitability comes down our list”, said Mr Maggioncalda.

“However, we see a path to profitability … it’s definitely less than five years,” he said.

Regional governments’ emphasis on diversification is fuelling the growth of online learning market, according to Mr Maggioncalda.

“Both governments and businesses have realised that it’s time to reduce oil dependency and they are also in a position to spend on their people’s education.”