A multi-pronged approach involving all stakeholders is needed to sustain the school franchise model in India.
A lot of adaptability and innovative approaches are needed to sustain franchise campuses in the Indian education industry during the coronavirus pandemic.
School franchising in India has been taking quality education to the farthest and remotest corners of the country for a long time now. The upstart franchisees (or partners as I prefer to call them) have been making the most of the education industry model in which institutions with established brand names, decades of experience, and plenty of resources at disposal willingly share their expertise, trademark, and wherewithal to expand the reach of education.
This model has worked wonders for education in the 21st century so far, but the unexpected disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has put a big question mark on the sustainability of franchise campuses in India.
The prolonged closure of schools has jeopardized the very model of franchise education in multiple ways:
1. The existing franchisees, given their limited means and royalty obligations to the franchisor, have been squeezed by the twin forces of recession and uncertainty.
2. The potential franchisees, who were mulling a foray into education, are now overcautious and reluctant to tie up with franchisors, thereby breaking the continuity of the franchise business network.
3. The franchisors themselves have taken a hit because of the plummeting revenues, disruption in the supply chain, and a rushed shift in Indian education from classrooms to the online mode.
In such a scenario, the franchise model of Indian education cannot sustain itself without adaptability, flexibility, innovation, and improvisation on the part of all the stakeholders involved.
The education sector is adopting a multi-pronged approach to sustain the franchise model. Schools with strong brand images and long legacy are leading the way to ensure the survival and sustenance of partner schools.
- Creating smart business continuity plans: Both franchisor and franchisee are having to put their heads together to work out new and smart business continuity plans that take an empathetic view of the aggrieved parties, permit short-term reductions, and adopt a flexible approach towards previous financial and logistical commitments. These plans themselves are not written in stone and are being constantly tweaked and improvised to accommodate the concerns of everyone involved.
- Developing new models of learning: The best way to sustain the franchise school campuses in India, or across the world for that matter, is by ensuring that the disruption caused to the education of students remains minimal, if not negligible. To this end, new models of synchronous and asynchronous learning are being developed. Technology is coming to the aid of educators and students alike during this pandemic. Teachers are developing customized lessons to reduce any gaps in learning so that the academic year is not lost and the education sector recovers swiftly post-pandemic.
- Financial relief by franchisors: Franchisors that are financially robust are stepping up to extend necessary relief to the franchisee partners who are hit hardest by the closure of schools and colleges. This relief comes in two forms: for the existing franchisees, it takes the shape of flexible royalty payments. For the prospective franchisees, it is extended as a rebate in the franchise fee and an easy royalty-payment plan. This relief helps partner schools to sustain themselves till their revenues pick up in the future.
- Rationalization and optimal use of resources: If ever there was a time to cut down extravagance and excess, it is now. Franchisors and franchisees are pulling out all the stops to reduce operational expenses and optimize the use of resources. The exercise is turning out to be quite a lesson in moderation. A lot of operational and marketing costs that previously seemed necessary are now being pared down to the bare minimum, creating more room for the sustenance of franchise campuses in the education industry.
- Improvisations in the curriculum: Greater student engagement is imperative for the education sector to recover. Partner schools are introducing a happiness curriculum to reduce stress among the students. Likewise, the syllabus is being cut down and online activities demanding more student involvement are being introduced. The franchisor, too, has been supporting the franchisee in parent orientation and fee recovery, etc.
- Teacher training support: To ensure a seamless continuation of education, the franchisors are providing teacher training programs to the franchisees. Teachers in the far-flung areas who may not be tech-savvy enough to impart lessons online are now being trained in using digital tools and platforms for online teaching and smarter assessment of students’ academic progress.
The emergence of multiple vaccines has raised the hopes of an end to the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent disruption in the months ahead. But it would be naïve to assume that things will swiftly return to normal.
It would take a slew of confidence-building measures on the part of the franchisors to bring more partner schools in their ambit. The franchise fee may have to be cut down and royalty plans could be revamped. Franchisors may be called upon for greater logistical and technical support to franchisees. All these challenges will take time to meet, but I’m confident that once the franchise business model of the Indian education industry is up and running again, there will be a great potential for growth and expansion.
Many corrective actions will be needed to get there. We have to be smart in our approach. And we have to start right now.
This article is written by Anirban Bhattacharya, Associate Vice President – Partner Schools, Seth Anandram Jaipuria Group of Educational Institutions.