Virtual Campus, Real Gain


5 Aug 2011
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The education sector in India is set to grow from $28 billion in 2010 to $47 billion by 2017, and analysts believe that providing education virtually—through virtual classrooms and campuses—will be a key element of that growth.

Given the vast geographic spread of India and the shortage of teachers and instructors, the government is planning to take the virtual route to make quality education available in remote areas. This also fits in with the government’s objective of including the masses in the overall economic progress of the country. There’s a strong element of public-private partnership as well. For instance, University18, a non-profit organization, is working with many leading universities in Karnataka for developing accredited degree and diploma programs and delivering them to students across the state.

Recently, the Indian government proposed setting up the India-Africa Virtual University which will provide scholarships to 10,000 African students to enroll for virtual courses imparted by leading Indian institutions.

These developments imply that there are significant opportunities for IT vendors and solution providers focused on the education sector.

“To meet its objective of social inclusion and bridging the economic divide, the government will have to rely on virtual technologies. The Indian private sector will have to be a part of this agenda,” says Shridhar Shukla, Managing Director, GS Labs, provider of KPoint, a virtual education platform.

The opportunities
The opportunities in setting up virtual campuses or classrooms lie across technology integration, hardware and software. These will involve vendors and partners extending the reach of existing data centers; setting up clouds; providing hardware such as networking equipment, server and storage boxes, LCD screens, projectors, video conferencing systems, interactive white boards, touch panels and HD cameras; and fulfilling content needs through a Learning Management System (LMS) or other software components.

Networking major Cisco is driving a project that aims to bring high-quality education well within the reach of students in Chhindwara (in Madhya Pradesh) by connecting them with teachers located elsewhere in India. In another of its initiatives, Cisco’s WebEx collaboration tool is being used by the Shankar Mahadevan Academy to impart music lessons to students across the globe.

Epson, which has deployed its interactive projector EB 455wi in many virtual campus projects, is also partnering with other players in the market. “We have tied up with Tata Interactive Systems for their virtual classroom projects. We have also tied up with big SIs to reach out to customers with our projectors,” says Harish AK, Senior Business Manager, Epson.

Business Octane is another company targeting the virtual education market with its TeleAllpresence collaboration suite. “The most important advantage of our product is that the trainer can see students in each of the locations and can interact with all of them,” says Sanjay Bansal, founder and Managing Director, Business Octane. Among the company’s customers are L&T and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

Partners too are making the most of the virtual campus boom. Says Sandeep Vahi, Director, Compton Computers, Delhi, “We are seeing many universities in the north set up virtual campuses to expand their reach to other parts of the country and even globally as a way of expanding their business and bringing in revenue growth. This has provided us immense business opportunities over the past two years.”

Sharing details of a private cloud infrastructure Compton recently developed for the Rohtak, Haryana-based Maharshi Dayanand University, Vahi says, “The Rs5 crore project is complete and the university is doing the final testing to launch its virtual campus which will be available to students globally over the next couple of months.” Compton has undertaken similar data center projects to support virtual campuses, including one for Agrasen Engineering College and another for BITS Pilani—each worth Rs2.5 crore.

Another solution provider bullish on the education sector is Patna-based Graphic Trades, which recently did a virtual classroom project for Sainik School.

Partners however feel that virtual campus opportunities would be more beneficial for them if they provide end-to-end solutions rather than just selling hardware and software. “Customers look at partners as end-to-end solution providers and they would prefer an entire package of services right from the installation of hardware, storage and servers to the provisioning of LMS and video conferencing and even down to the interiors,” says Ajay Maitin, CEO, Graphic Trades.

“Partners have to prepare themselves for such projects as the future is in virtual classrooms. It would be advisable for them to provide end-to-end solutions but they can also specialize in data centers, video conferencing or security solutions,” says Vahi.

Indeed, as more universities realize the benefits of virtual campuses and as broadband connectivity in India improves, there will be even more opportunities for different players in the market.

source : crn
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