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Edtech firms work to get communication right with the ASCI


Bengaluru: Top Indian edtech startups such as Byju’s, Unacademy, upGrad, which had
recently formed a consortium for self-regulation, are now consulting with the Advertising Standards Council of India to address one of the most critical concerns for the online education sector—their communication.

The Indian Edtech Consortium (IEC), the formation of which was first reported by ET, has held multiple conversations with the self-regulatory body for advertising to finalise its code for advertising and how edtech products are being marketed, people aware of the matter said.

This has gained more prominence following a meeting between the IEC and the education ministry, where officials from the ministry told the consortium that they should implement the proposed self-regulatory codes in spirit and should not allow advertisements, for example, with a definite promise on jobs or any such relevant outcome.

“There is of course a lot of consultation in the works as advertising is very critical for a sector like education and its social impact. Outside the consortium, large edtech companies have started taking inputs from ASCI independently too,” a person aware of the matter said.

ET had earlier this month reported that edtech firms are primarily focused on addressing two core areas: no misleading advertisements and avoiding misleading payment structures. Industry sources said that various stakeholders in the industry, including ASCI, are taking note of communications from new-age companies across sectors. “We do keep reviewing our guidelines from time to time to keep pace with emerging consumer concerns. For all new guidelines, we undertake extensive stakeholder consultations with the government, industry bodies, or members, sector experts as well as representatives of consumer organisations,” said Manisha Kapoor, secretary general of ASCI.

Mayank Kumar, co-chair of industry association IAMAI’s edtech committee, declined to comment on the matter. Kumar, along with Byju’s cofounder Divya Gokulnath, are key members of IEC, who attended the meeting with education ministry officials last week.

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While the IEC works closely with ASCI, the government is said to have told the consortium that the move to form edtech codes was welcome. And as long as they are followed in an honest manner, the government does not intend to take a heavy-handed approach and would go for a light-touch regulation.

“They (education ministry officials) were briefed on the IEC code last Tuesday and what it planned to do. The consortium wanted to get feedback on the government’s thoughts also and what were their ongoing concerns so the companies can address those too,” another source briefed on the matter said.

“They (companies) were also told by the government that eventually edtech firms also have to follow data protection laws and other such relevant rules from the government on consumer rights and data protection.”

A third source said, edtech as a sector has increasingly realised it will be scrutinised more going forward as its consumer base has increased significantly over the past two years besides the fact the sector has attracted record capital amid tailwinds gained from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Government officials are closely tracking the payments, advertising issues related to edtech as they have been receiving complaints from various sections of the society. In all likelihood, this would be like ecommerce, where policy and regulation now play a critical role in India,” this person added.

In total, edtech startups saw funding of over $4 billion in 2021 and $2.1 billion in 2020 compared to $393 million in 2019 and $675 million in 2018, according to data from Venture Intelligence.

ET reported earlier this month on increasing spotlight on trade practises of edtech firms which started with Karti Chidambaram, Lok Sabha member for Sivaganga in the, pitching for the need to regulate the sector in December. The government, soon after that, spoke about the need to regulate the sector and education minister Dharmendra Pradhan has said there are interministerial conversations underway to work out a regulation policy for the edtech sector.

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