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Online Education Takes Off in India

The business of distance learning on the subcontinent is becoming so big that foreign universities and venture capitalists are taking note
Indian schoolchildren use a laptop to browse a new self assessment and diagnostic Internet site tool in Hyderabad.
Indian schoolchildren use a laptop to browse a new self assessment and diagnostic Internet site tool in Hyderabad. NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images

It's a Sunday afternoon and class time for 39-year-old IT worker Seema Shetty. Her feet curled under her in a swivel chair, she sits in front of a computer monitor, adjusts a set of headphones, and scribbles in a notebook. Shetty, who works for consulting firm Mastek in Mumbai, is in a virtual classroom in the Vile Parle suburb, where a dozen computers link students to some of India's elite management institutions. Today's class is a three-hour general management lecture, part of the online education course conducted by the Xavier Labor Relations Institute in Jamshedpur, in the remote northern Indian state of Jharkhand.

A consultant for various industries from insurance to banking, Shetty signed up for an online certificate course to "learn more about my clients' business requirements," she says. By enrolling in the 14-month, six-hour-per-weekend online course, at a cost of $4,600, she can further her education without having to take a two-year career break to get an MBA. Learning online, says Shetty hopefully, "will definitely boost my job prospects."