During his two decades as University President, Richard Levin focused much of his attention on China. Now, only eight months after taking over as the CEO of the online education platform Coursera, Levin is looking to expand the company’s user base in the country, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The effort continues Levin’s work at Yale, where he built a stronger relationship between the University and China, which he calls the world’s fastest growing educational market. Despite Levin’s vision for China as an academic frontier, Chinese education experts differ in their predictions for the success of Coursera’s planned expansion.
“China is our fastest growing market, and our team is building initiatives and travels there all the time,” Levin told the China Daily in October.
The Bloomberg article from Oct. 27 of this year stated that Levin wants to expand Coursera’s footprint in China, citing his history of Yale-China relations while he was president.
According to Chinese education expert and University of Oregon professor Yong Zhao, the company’s courses may be popular among Chinese students hoping to study abroad in the U.S.
Levin cited other reasons for why the course may have been a success.
“Many of the Chinese users are over college age and take the online courses either for personal fulfillment or to improve their job skills,” Levin told the China Daily.
Levin could not be reached for further comment.
James Roy, associate principal for the China Market Research Group, which has done extensive work on education in China, agreed, explaining that in China there are two main markets for online courses.
For some constituent groups, Roy told the News, credentials for these online courses are key. With the incredible competition among white-collar workers in the job market, he added, graduates go to great lengths to distinguish themselves from their peers — taking courses in professional English, computer programming and statistical analysis.
Roy also said there is another possible market for these online courses.
“There’s also a growing segment that is interested in taking courses purely for enjoyment,” he said. “Chinese professionals often tell us that they never had opportunities to really pursue their real interests in school because of the tracking that occurs in the Chinese system.”
However, some experts said that Chinese students’ narrow focus on accreditation may be an obstacle for Coursera. Zhao said because the existing Chinese education system is self-contained and rigorous, and high school and college students have many course requirements already, it is unlikely that students would take any class that did not lead to a degree.
“Education in China is particularly utilitarian,” Zhao said. “If it does not give them something of practical value, [such as] career advancement or employment, it will be difficult. The pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a luxury.”
According to the Coursera website, students who complete Coursera MOOCs are eligible for free statements of accomplishment, but can also opt to take the class on the signature track for between $30 and $90. This option provides a verified certificate, which does not confer Yale course credit but does provide a shareable certificate endorsed by the University.
The Coursera database holds 861 online courses.