Leah Belsky, Coursera’s Chief Revenue Officer is slightly jet lagged after a long flight from the US to Delhi, but speaks passionately about increasing access to knowledge. Belsky, who served on former US President Obama’s Technology Policy Committee, now sits on the Board of Engine Advocacy, a tech start-up policy body that promotes freedom of expression, innovation and access to knowledge. In Delhi, Belsky was part of a Coursera event along with CEO Jeff Maggioncalda to launch a host of new solutions for Indian learners, including 4,000 AI-translated Hindi Courses. The edtech firm, which had revenues of $609 million in the 12 months ending September 2023, also unveiled a GenAI Academy to help corporate executives — with L&T being the first to sign up.

Belsky, who helped build Coursera’s enterprise business in the early days, spoke to businessline about what companies are seeking when it comes to skilling. Excerpts:


You built Coursera’s enterprise business. How did that come about?

In 2017, we saw that companies were looking to retain millennial workers and investing in training their employees. At that time the vast majority of education courses were being built by companies in house. But they also realised that with changes happening so fast it made no sense to build their own foundation skills courses like data science or web development, nor was there a need to customise. It was better to outsource to experts. That was the origin of our business.


How many companies have signed up in India with Coursera? Overall, how big is the enterprise business for you?

The enterprise business is roughly half of our business, another 25 per cent is government and the rest is campuses. In 2021, 90 companies had signed up from India and now it is up to 150. Axis Bank was the first one.


But how is the enterprise market now? During recession would companies still invest in skilling and pay for the education of employees? Or do you notice cutbacks?

In recession, companies actually double down on their investment in skills. We always find that companies pay for the education of their employees. They do so because they do not want their employees to lag behind. Skills are changing so fast and they want a productive workforce. We know that around 50 percent of the graduates don’t have the necessary skills to get jobs. Many of the companies are trying to retrain their employees in core digital skills like data analytics, Generative AI. They see it as a business imperative.

In India we are seeing 3.2 times the penetration of Gen AI than the rest of the world. A Stanford study found that over 50 per cent of tasks are likely to be impacted by GenAI. The reason why companies will adopt Gen AI Academy from Coursera is because they see it as a way to save money and make workers more productive. Even during recession, it will be seen as a way to reduce costs as it will allow workers to automate tasks so they need fewer people.

It is structured in a way that enables both foundational literacy as well as help leaders understand how they can drive Gen AI transformation.


What kind of employees do you train?

We see three sets of learners. The first category is entry level, recent college grads. They use foundational courses from Coursera. They also use guided projects and online labs where companies can create their own case studies.

The second set are advanced corporate workers who just need to upskill in particular skills. For instance, PwC has built something called Digital IQ to assess and identify the core skills needed to drive the workforce in the future, and they see advanced skilling as a way of increasing productivity of their consultants and reducing costs over time.

The third group that we see are frontline workers. The use-case there is fascinating. For instance, some companies, as part of their offering to frontline workers, make degrees available through Coursera. One of the new degrees we have made available for the working professionals is a Bachelors in Computer Science from BITS Pilani and IIT Guwahati. It’s an online degree that also has certification courses from leading international companies like Google in it.


But don’t BITS and IITs need an entrance exam to be cleared?

They don’t need BITSAT or the JEE. Although, not just anybody can do this degree course, there are fewer entry barriers. On campus it is a BTech, this is a B.Sc (Honours), but it is almost comparable. What we are trying to do is, we partner with top institutions to make their degrees more accessible, and widely available at a much lower cost with lower barriers to getting admission. At the same time, it is about applied industry relevant courses and access.


How many seats would there be?

1,000 for BITS and 750 for IIT Guwahati. This is the first cohort actually.


How big a market is India for you? And which is your biggest segment?

We have 23.4 million registered learners in India and it is the second biggest market for us. In India, enterprise business is the fastest growing. The campus business is comparatively a newer one.


When you opened up for IPO in 2021, your shares sold for $33 and market valuation was at $5.8 billion. But now the stock price is down to $19.6 and market valuation is down considerably. What has driven the value down?

Coursera went public at a time when tech companies were valued incredibly high. The company has grown quite big since the IPO. We have three businesses –the consumer business , the enterprise business and the online degree business. We find that different parts of the business did differently during the recession. During Covid, for instance, the Consumer business took off as more individuals signed up. Online degree also tends to be countercyclical and even when there is recession they do well. Often stock price is potentially a reflection of future growth and when we IPO-ed, the multiple for tech stocks were very high. However, Coursera’s stock has gained considerably in the last year.