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First came pictures. Then came videos. Will money follow?

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Good Morning [%first_name |Dear Reader%],

Welcome back to Ed Set Go, your one-stop for the internet’s most crafty takes on the business of education. I use the word “craft” on purpose.

Now, I haven’t been a student of any sort for the last 12 years. But I can still clearly remember the search for the perfect set of photocopied notes, or books where a senior had scribbled their insights in the margins. I remember calling peers on the landline (yep) for explanations on why x=y or some such thing. And I remember how Facebook chats with seniors helped me figure out what I wanted to do, on the cusp of graduating college.

If we boil down this learning behavior, it looks something like this:

cliff notes/summaries + advice + motivation + peer-to-peer social networking

This type of learning is sort of a twilight zone, a liminal space between academic and non-academic existence. There’s no consolidating name or category to it. But like every experience worth its salt, it’s been packaged into a neat little business idea.

And these business opportunities are being fueled by the typically Gen Z trait of switching rapidly between consuming and creating content. Want to learn about the First War of Indian Independence? Signing up to an online course provider is only one (and the most boring) way to go about it. Learners, instead, might hit up a YouTube video or an Instagram account where the cliff notes are set to a Billie Eilish song. Or follow a vlogger who records her whole day of tea-sipping and snack-eating with a 5-second wrap-up of a topic squeezed in between.

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of studygrams gone wild. You may not understand it. You may not be Gen Z. But does this content have some real-world earning potential? Hell, yeah.

Y’all not gonna believe this

I’m given, somewhat reliably, to believe that y’all is a term that actual people use. So y’all better get ready for this.

In mid-2021, a young Australian student who goes by the Instagram handle “Emmastudiess” said the following to Business Insider Australia.

“I feel incredibly fortunate that my online presence has afforded me a comfortable earning so far. It’s allowed me to finish my degree, take those unpaid internships every communication student has to [take], and have the odd treat. A good portion of the money goes back into funding and giving me the flexibility to spend time doing something I enjoy. My Etsy store generates the most revenue for me. I also receive income from ads across each platform and via donations. Sponsorships aren’t a massive focus for me at this time as I prefer to generate money from my own work in a sense.”

The studygrammer has 350,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts pictures and videos of hyper-organised, colour-coordinated study notes. The brain behind Emmastudiess makes calendars, tight study schedules, and promotes stationary brands to her followers, who often watch livestreams of her… studying.

Screenshots from Emmastudiess’ Instagram account

It’s not just pretty pictures though. I went down the rabbit hole of Indian studygrammers one morning to find an hour-long YouTube conversation between two medical students who individually run pretty popular studygram accounts on Instagram. And a good chunk of the conversation is about making money from their content feed.

Mad about Medicine and Applystudiesmed conclude that there are three main ways for studygrammers to earn money: 

  • Number 1, and the most popular, is when a company sponsors a post
  • Number 2 is subscriptions to your channel
  • Number 3, and most difficult to crack, are affiliate marketing links (which sometimes don’t even cover the cost of one coffee).

Wait. This money isn’t hypothetical…

…is what a year-old company called Habitat realised even as it started herding these studygrammers, content creators, and influencers to one app—its own.

The Habitat app has about 250 creators right now, says founder Rohit Pande, about 70% of whom are women. He claims the app also has a largely tier-2, tier-3 city audience that relies more on social networks for learning, career advice, exams. Wrapped up in a tight social media bow, Habitat’s 30-day user retention levels are 35%, claims Pande.

“This is a student’s game. Teachers are better off recording videos and broadcasting them. But students want engagement,” he says. That’s why so many studygram feeds are about making waffles between two intense practice test sessions. The idea behind Habitat is to take all these interactions that were happening organically and give them a home on one app.

Right now, Habitat’s main community is focused on cracking the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC)—a number of posts are about what to study, how to make time-tables, and ‘a day in the life of a UPSC aspirant’ type of content. There are also video chats with All India UPSC rankers and cliff notes for the conversations.

“Discord meets Clubhouse,” is how Pande describes his platform.

Creating the actual content is just a matter of clicking pictures or recording short videos—frictionless when compared to other online learning formats. But the advantage of having a consistent community of consumers is that they can indicate what kind of content they want from the creator. That doesn’t happen much in broadcast channels such as Instagram and YouTube, says Pande.

Screenshots from Habitat’s Instagram account

Pande says only a small fraction of content creators on Habitat make money, anywhere between Rs 25,000-Rs 2,00,000 (~US$333-US$2,660) a month from selling paid “1-on-1 mentoring” packages—a 7-day crash course or a 15-day subject pack. As a learner, you can join a creator’s “space” (which is a YouTube-like channel) or an audio chat or even “paid club”, where you can join a discussion for Rs 500 (~US$7).

Screenshot of a paid conversation on Habitat

Both Pande and I couldn’t put a finger on it during our call. This ephemeral quality of living life online and putting yourself out there. Having the confidence to record your whole day like a celebrity, but ultimately not reaaaaaally caring about having an audience. And at the same time, craving a community to just study with, into the wee hours of the night.

It’s a vibe game, Pande says. What Dunzo did to e-commerce, Gen Z is doing to online learning. Creating chaos and destroying well-defined boundaries between learning, having fun, chilling, acing exams. Habitat is a product born of the Gen Z brain, and Pande believes the trend will stick around long enough for the company to make some money. In fact, some of these studygrammers are just getting started.

Also, just for y’all, I took a picture of what I did as a college student before studygram, or even Instagram, was a thing. I did use a filter though.

A NAAC for accreditation

By Arpit Arora

How good was that college you studied at? There is an empirical answer to that question, but only if you went to one of India’s accredited colleges.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) assesses the ‘Quality Status’ of higher educational institutions (HEIs) and assigns a score between A++ and C, with suggestions on how to improve. And if an HEI got a “D”, they get shown the Door (unaccredited).

But this wasn’t enough to ensure that India’s colleges were providing holistic education. First, it was a voluntary assessment and only a fraction of HEIs ever took it. According to the NAAC’s own data, there are currently only 8,771 accredited institutes across the country. The total number of HEIs in India is ~56,000. 

Second, the HEI ecosystem in India is highly fragmented, with rigid separation of disciplines and limited emphasis on cognitive skills.

The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 sought to change all that—with more accreditation.

A stage-wise mechanism for granting graded autonomy to colleges, through a transparent system of graded accreditation, will be established. Colleges will be encouraged, mentored, supported, and incentivized to gradually attain the minimum benchmarks required for each level of accreditation.

That idea finally came into effect last month. On 24 January, the NAAC announced that HEIs could apply for PAC (Provisional Accreditation of Colleges) if they have completed at least one academic year. Until now, institutions had to be at least six years old, or had to have two batches of students graduate, before they could apply.

NAAC now plans to offer provisional accreditation to over 20,000 colleges in a single year and scale this to 40,000 institutions by 2023-24. This means that a large majority of India’s HEIs will soon have provisional accreditation.

The expansion is a big opportunity for newer and private institutes. Accreditation might help them garner more autonomy and funding, and would add substantial credibility to their offerings. 

That unique course offered by that relatively small institute you weren’t sure about? Well, an NAAC accreditation might help you make that decision now.

More accredited HEIs—>more diverse, quality courses. 

But there are a few issues. 

To make the provisional accreditation easy to obtain, NAAC has made the process much less demanding. HEIs only need to answer 10 quantitative and 10 qualitative questions, and score a 15 out of 40 to secure provisional accreditation. Standards are much stricter for full accreditation. 

The scale of the planned expansion also means that NAAC will have a lot more institutes to track. And with the government being super touchy about who gets to issue a degree these days, what a college can do with a PAC will need to be defined clearly.

Back Bench

While a court decides the fate of Muslim female students in Karnataka, here’s a bit of news that might come in handy. Without the ban, the Gross Attendance Ratio for Muslim women in higher education has jumped from 1.1% to 15.8% between 2008 and 2018 in Karnataka.

The GAR number for women has gone up across religious groups.

That’s a unifying factor, if there ever was one.

Issue #19 of ESG already! Are you enjoying the journey? Let us know by writing to us at [email protected].

Until next week,

Olina

This newsletter has been discontinued. But you can read The Stack which includes our newsletters around cleantech, fintech, personal finance and e-commerce in India!