Pramesh Khadka, CEO of Meshed Group and Founder of Educonnect, has been an innovator in the tertiary education space for more than two decades. His latest solution is a new digital platform that empowers higher-level students to make better informed choices by giving them the ability to search, compare and connect to courses offered by Australian institutions locally and abroad.
Dynamic Business spoke with Pramesh about how his platform is taking the hassle out of finding courses online, the circumstances leading up to the platform’s launch, and his commitment to the international education sector in the wake of COVID-19.
The ‘Canstar’ of Australian tertiary institutions
As self-titled ‘Canstar’ or ‘Finder’ of Australian tertiary institutions, Educonnect empowers cohorts of national and international students to make informed decisions when looking for courses – from the discovery process right through to enrolment.
“We are APAC’s first cloud-based education marketplace enabling education providers to recruit and connect with prospective students globally in one single platform”, Mr Khadka explained.
“We want Educonnect to support the students making informed choices and to promote the Australian education industry. Our goal is to support the sector overall.
“Our aim is to utilise our professional team, in order to guide the best possible outcome for students and to make sure that they find the right course.
“We want to make sure we advise students regarding their future aspirations, their career goals, and we want to guide them towards the right university or colleges or language providers.”
Educonnect serves as a repository of information about courses and the institutions that host them – from leads and enquiries in the application process, to the specifics of student life offered by each provider.
“Providers can put information about what services they have, for example student clubs, assistance for student well-being, and library facilities. They also offer information relating to the courses, such as availability for domestic versus international students, fees and whether the course is offered full or part time, Mr Khadka said.
“All of this information is controlled and managed by providers through their end, which makes it real-time for students and to the connecting part. It also allows students to get the correct answers to their questions.”
At the time of interview, Educonnect had more than ten providers on board and aims to have as many as 200 by the end of the year. Mr Khadka added that expansion would eventually give students access to thousands of courses from a combination of higher education, vocational and language providers.
“Our approach is to bring different sectors so that students will have more options to select and inquire about, and this way they can get the right information that they need to make the decision,” he said.
Educonnect: How it started
Pramesh’s own time at university – first as an international student and later as a lecturer – led him to consider new ways to streamline and simplify the daunting and often overwhelming process of searching for and selecting courses.
“When I came to Australia as an international student twenty-two years ago, what I experienced was brochures. There was no way to compare courses and it was only limited options at that time,” he said.
“Now, with the internet and digital advancement, there are a lot of new avenues for promoting courses. The last fifteen years have been very good for Australian education providers who can go out there to conduct seminars and webinars, talk about their courses, and so on.
“While there has been a shift, there is no consolidated platform where the students can go and search for courses they are looking for, that will help them match with the right courses, provide them with expert advice and so on.”
Having identified a gap in the market, Pramesh launched Educonnect in March 2021 – one year after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
“We’ve got researchers in the background that have been in the industry for 15 years. We’ve got consultants and professionals that have been guiding students for many years as well,” Mr Khadka said.
“We understand technology, we understand the education sector, so the team that is involved is able to help and understand every stakeholder – what the students are looking for and what the providers have to offer.
“We want to be able to make the platform accessible for everyone that wishes to study in Australia, make it possible for providers to promote through our platform and connect with agents, so that students are well-guided, connected, and assisted in the proper way. It’s our vision and our goal to achieve this for hundreds of thousands of students in the next ten years.”
The long road to recovery for Australia’s international education
COVID-19 has created significant disruptions within Australia’s tertiary education space. In June 2020, Universities Australia estimated that the fallout of the virus resulted in the axing of 17,000 campus jobs and could cost the country $16 billion by 2023. The biggest contributor to this has been the loss of international student contribution and revenue due to ongoing border closures.
Prior to the pandemic, Australia was steadily growing as the world’s third largest provider of international education: In 2019, the country hosted a total of 750,000 international students across higher education, vocational education and English language provision and schools.
The total sector contributed over $37 billion to Australia’s economy in the last financial year and has been estimated by the Department of Education to support 250,000 jobs, making it Australia’s fourth-largest export industry.
International education plays a vital role in Australian society with economic, cultural and social benefits for people and businesses alike, but a nationwide effort will be needed to bring the industry back to its pre-pandemic levels of success.
Through its potential to market institutions to prospect students all over the world, Educonnect is at the forefront of these efforts to place Australia back on the world map as a premium tertiary education destination.
“Australian education was on a growth phase with students wanting to come here to do their further studies. That has all stopped. The industry now needs a lot of support from different stakeholders to bring it back to the situation that it was pre-pandemic,” Mr Khadka said.
“We are trying to support the education sector overall. There are different councils or industry associations that we are trying to reach out to, and no doubt we will be reaching out to government to see where we can assist with promoting Australian education.”
Last month, the federal government announced the Australian Strategy for International Education 2021-2030, which is its decade-long recovery blueprint for the sector. The document lists innovation and responsiveness, including an active response to emerging opportunities, as its key points.
For Pramesh, delivering courses to students in new and innovative ways is the next logical step towards recovery. He envisions a high-quality, digitally-enabled education system that is accessible to all – and Educonnect is one way this can be achieved.
“Tertiary institutions need to embrace technology and use it to best support the learning needs of students. We’ve got great education to offer,” Mr Khadka said.
“As the world education goes global, one thing we can expect is Australian education providers not only welcoming international students to Australia, but reaching out and offering online courses to people all around the world who can benefit from them.”
“This shift for us, and our shift as an industry, is going to be instrumental in how we position ourselves as a global education destination.”