MBAs and Cupcakes go Online

It’s higher education – but not quite as Brazilians over the age of 30 have ever known it. Yet, despite the worst recession in a generation, this corner of the education market is positively booming.

Global Ed-tech – the proliferation of online video-based training for both vocational and academic development – has come forcefully to Brazil.

It seems international venture capital investors have heeded president Dilma Rousseff’s promise made during her second inaugural in January 2015, that Brazil will become the “country of education.”

Promise of education:  But can Rousseff pay for it?

Promise of education: But can Rousseff pay for it?

They are jostling for territory in a section of the market they’re convinced will shake off recession and certainly, education is big business in Brazil.

Already, three out of four university students in Brazil graduate from commercial universities in large part funded by grants from government to students. Meanwhile the government is ploughing resources into vocational training through its PRONATEC programme. As you can read from an earlier Science for Brazil posting by clicking here, the increasingly commercial higher education market   in Latin America is attracting lots of investor attention.

So far the offerings from Brazil’s Ed-Tech players are a somewhat ungainly mix of cupcake making, wedding planning and MBAs. But in a huge nation with a far-flung population of 200 million hungry for self-improvement, the potential is there for a major boom that could rattle both the publicly-funded establishment of universities, and their bricks-and-mortar commercial rivals.

Online undergraduates: there are millions  in Brazil

Online undergraduates: there are millions in Brazil

Certainly, providers such as Coursera (the leading MOOC or Massive Open Online Course provider) are finding up to one fifth of their users come from Latin America. Thanks to predictions of smartphone penetration increasing from about 25 percent in Latin America today to roughly 50 percent by 2018, and marked class differences based on educational backgrounds, many are seeing e-learning in Latin America as means of levelling the socio-economic playing field.

Private Universities focus on graduate job market (Foto Wikimedia)

Private Universities focus on graduate job market (Foto Wikimedia)

Assessing the scope of Brazil’s marketplace for university degrees and ongoing academic development isn’t easy, but it’s part of a rising global trend. According to startup bible TechCrunch, global online education spending is estimated at $5.5 trillion, of which e-learning represents about 3 percent, or $1.7 billion.

Here’s a quick (and necessarily partial) panorama of the online education scene in Brazil:

Veduca earned plaudits from the Times Higher Education as holding out “high hopes” for its curriculum, which includes (free) MOOCs on biogenetics, science writing, renewable energy and math for engineers. Free courses also cover the medical area, environment and earth sciences and math. MBA certification programmes cost just BR$6,000 (USD 2,000).

Veduca claims to have more than 800,000 registered students and to be the largest player in Brazil. It offers access (with Portuguese voiceover) to sources from recognised academic brands including the University of São Paulo, University of Campinas, Harvard, MIT, The Netherlands’ Delft Technical University, and others.

Descomplica serves the pre-university market for school leavers needing to pass the basic entrance exam to enter college. Although it is now introducing a single standard, Brazil’s devolved state system and widely varying educational quality means most universities set their own entry test. This obliges school leavers to complete a “cursinho” or crammer session – for decades a lucrative educational industry.

Have-a-go local entrepreneurs such as Professor Paulo Jubilut have also built powerful franchises in this field. His Biologia Total website is a local market leader, with a Facebook page showing 1.8 million “likes” and some educational videos watched by over 800,000 people.

Millions of likes for  biology professor  Paulo Jubilut

Millions of likes for biology professor Paulo Jubilut

You can read an earlier Science for Brazil article about this increasingly commercial education market by clicking here.

It’s not strictly education, but eduK is the Brazilian startup that international investors are pointing at as a bellwether. This provider of online home improvement, craft, and cookery lessons was the leading case story in an article published by Techcrunch, the VC and tech industry house magazine.

eduK: baking commercial success for VC investors

eduK: baking commercial success for VC investors

EduK has been much written about by the local media as it proffers an interesting mix of celebrity (one of its sponsors is Brazilian basketball star Bernardinho) and overseas capital (Silicon Valley tech VC fund Accel has invested US$10 million in eduK, alongside a string of other Brazilian startups).

What’s significant here is that there is clearly international money looking at Brazilian Ed Tech and on online activity. It cannot be too long before international investors raise their sights from online videos about baking cakes or creating children’s party dresses to MBAs and even PhDs delivered online in learning-hungry Brazil.

In the scramble to create a knowledge society, online could be just the delivery mechanism that Brazil needs to raise the qualifications of its burgeoning young population.

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