Managing Director and Dean of Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School for Global Management, Sanjeev Khagram, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the university’s launch of its free global education initiative, its goal of enrolling 100 million students by 2030 and the future of education.
AKIKO FUJITA: Arizona State University is looking to dramatically expand its student body, launching an ambitious campaign to enroll 100 million new students by the end of this decade. And they’re getting a big boost from emerging technology. Let’s bring in Dr. Sanjeev Khagram. He is the Managing Director and Dean of ASU’s Thunderbird School for Global Management. Doctor, it’s good to talk to you today. So interesting to hear how you plan to expand this, artificial intelligence being a big part of it. Tell me about the vision.
SANJEEV KHAGRAM: So thank you very much, Akiko. First, I just want to be clear that it’s 100 million learners. Some people get confused. And there is a difference because we are launching a five-course certificate, digital, translated into 40 different languages, at no cost to the learner. For every course they take, a learner from all over the world — and with 40 languages, we have up to 90% of the world’s population — they get a badge. They finish a badge, they finish every course.
After five lessons, they get a certificate. And if they apply after that, they can get 15 credits, which is a certified certificate that they could transfer to any university in the world, of course, Arizona State University itself. So that’s the big vision – 100 million learners taking courses for which they get badges in 40 different languages at no cost to them, preparing them for the new global economy.
Brad Smith: You know, when we think about what prompted this initiative, what happened there, especially after a period where we saw part of the global enrollment of international students because of the pandemic and part of the uncertainty that surrounds him either declining to return to some of those four-year universities where they were on campus or enrolled? And what happened in that decision-making process to try to reconnect with the global student community?
SANJEEV KHAGRAM: Well, the Thunderbird School of Global Management has been around for 75 years. We have 50,000 graduates in 140 countries. We reached nearly two million people. Arizona State University offers the largest online program – one of the largest online programs for students around the world, anywhere on the planet. So it’s not something new for us. Certainly, COVID has accelerated and accentuated the need.
By 2035, Brad, we have 440 million people around the world seeking higher education. It would mean building tons and tons of new college campuses, and it’s not going to happen. So our charter at ASU, Arizona State University, is to judge ourselves by who we include, not who we exclude. And that, we wanted to take it on a global scale.
Global inclusion, innovation and impact therefore required a transformative initiative. And it had to be 100% digital, very active engagement, but 100% digital, different languages so we could get it to a lot of different people around the world. And make it accessible at no cost to learners.
AKIKO FUJITA: Tell me about how you fit AI and machine learning into all of this. I mean, are these learners going to engage with a teacher? I mean, how is this course going to go?
SANJEEV KHAGRAM: So think about it step by step. In the first stages, there will be the courses that will be charged. The first course will be launched the first week of April, with subsequent courses throughout this year and next year. And the first phase will also involve translating into around 7-10 languages and then up to 40 languages. When we first launch, of course, it will be digital and online, so there will be videos and interactive exercises and so on and so on. There will be associate professors.
But as we continue to grow and with the large numbers, we’re going to use modern data analytics, machine learning, AI, to build chatbots, AI interactive capabilities, so that in fact, it becomes fully automated over time. We will always have a human component. We have centers around the world with Thunderbird and Arizona State University. We have partners all over the world. So there will always be a human component. But as we grow in size, more and more things will be able to be done interactively using AI, automation, and machine learning.
Brad Smith: With blended learning as well, a lot of attention is paid to the necessary technology capabilities or components that a student needs to have in order to stay connected to the experience, to that educational infrastructure, if you will, and to the programs that are put into cheeky square. So what kind of requirements are placed on students? And where does the university come in, given that this new program is free?
SANJEEV KHAGRAM: Well, that’s an important thing. And that’s why we call it free and not free, because students will need to have access to technology. And we will certainly do everything we can with our partners around the world to ensure that they have access to it. They must have internet access. Of course, they could download it. There have been many changes and developments that have happened, innovations since the pandemic to get more students, more learners in the world, access to technology and the internet.
But these are prerequisites to access it. Although there is no cost for tuition, we invest millions and millions of dollars. We had an incredible gift from our intellectual benefactors and co-architects, Francis and Dionne Najafi. Obviously, Arizona State University and Thunderbird, we invest millions. Students must be able to have this technology. And we will work with partners and this internet access to make that possible.
AKIKO FUJITA: What does ASU get out of it? I mean, you know, sure, it’s an additional revenue generator. Is that the motivation? Is it to make the ASU name known more globally? What do you see?
SANJEEV KHAGRAM: No, so, you know, Thunderbird joined ASU after so many years. We were an independent, not-for-profit institution, an academic institution, about eight years ago. The vision of our incredible leader, President Michael Crow, is, once again, inclusion on a global scale. This is our mission. We are committed to empowering and educating learners around the world for the 21st century. And the combination of Arizona State University and Thunderbird, our vision is a world of sustainable and equitable prosperity. So it’s about, as I said, inclusion, innovation and global impact.
Brad Smith: It’s so great to have this discussion here with you today, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, who is the CEO and Dean of the ASU Thunderbird School for Global Management. We appreciate the time spent here. We need to check back in the future to see how the program has progressed.