Indian students critical to success of Minerva's 'new-age American education' projectOctober 31, 2014
BANGALORE: Ben Nelson will likely be one of the star speakers at the Nasscom Product Conclave that begins in Bangalore an event that's become the IT association's biggest in its annual calendar.
Nelson's trying to do to higher education in the US what Amazon did to retail, Google to search, and Uber to cab services. That's potentially great news for Indians who yearn for an American education. Nelson's Minerva Project, as it is called, will have an annual tuition fee of $10,000, and including room and boarding, a total cost of $28,000, less than half of what Ivy League colleges charge. There are lower-end colleges with a total cost of about $25,000, but Nelson's promise is Ivy League quality education, at least.
His venture is also the reason that brings Nelson to India now. He needs Indian students — after all, Indian and Chinese students form the bulk of foreign students going to the US each year. "I want to talk to students, parents and other constituents about the value of the Minerva education," he told TOI on a call from the US.
Nelson's model is radically different from traditional educational structures. No sprawling campuses, no fancy architecture, no football fields or tennis courts, no libraries. Instead, the students will stay their first year in a dorm in San Francisco, and spend each of the next six semesters in a different city around the world. The cities being looked at include Berlin, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, New York, and London.
Nelson would like Mumbai to be part of this list, but current laws don't allow foreign universities to teach in India. "But there's a more friendly government now," he notes. HRD minister Smriti Irani is said to be looking at creating a legal framework to allow foreign universities.
Minerva's teaching method involves not a teacher delivering a lecture — Nelson says the information that teachers disseminate are anyway freely available in books and increasingly in the massive open online courses (MOOCs). Instead, it seeks to simulate an intense seminar-like environment that would be focused on building creativity, and analytical, communication and leadership capabilities.
While the students would be in one location, the teacher could be anywhere in the world — everybody connected through high-end video systems. "Students will interact all the time, it will be very engaging. We will have the best professors in the world because they don't have to be physically present at the student location," says Nelson, who previously led the online photo-sharing company Snapfish. He notes that there will be experiential learning offline, and "so we'll have the best of both worlds" (online and offline, traditional and modern education).
In a recent conversation with The Independent, Nelson said his curriculum "is designed to train those individuals who will create or run the major institutions of the world."
He says traditional colleges in the US tend to have a small quota for each country outside the US. "If they were to go just by merit, there may be no US student. We will be more open, more diverse, and so lot more opportunities for students from India," he says. Minerva needs about 10,000 students each year to be profitable; it's starting this year with 29.