Indians are among the largest cohorts of international students in many nations, indicating the aspiration to study abroad. But this is a costly affair and not within the reach of everyone. Ed-fintech firm GradRight wants to change this situation by democratising higher education from foreign universities. The Hyderabad-based firm, which claims to be the “world’s first ed-fintech and AI-powered SaaS ecosystem”, says it’s making higher education more accessible and affordable by uniting prospective students, universities and lenders on a single platform. This champions transparency and credibility in the process by eliminating intermediaries and reduces associated costs through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
In an interaction with ET Online, its co-founder, Aman Singh, discusses how the platform has opened a window for low- and middle-income Indian students to study in foreign universities. Edited excerpts:
ET: What was the inspiration to start GradRight?
Aman Singh: GradRight was created as a response to the challenges we have seen in the Indian and global higher education sector in the last 15 years. The real challenge we are trying to solve is access to good quality higher education, particularly for students and families in the middle- and lower-middle order of academic merit or financial strength, or those in smaller towns and cities. Such students struggle with information asymmetry and have limited access to financing organisations. They can get confused about finding the best colleges and have a hard time finding the funds to finance these college choices. This confusion can lead to poor college and financing choices. Unscrupulous agents take advantage of vulnerable students.
We believe that with the right use of technology, we can tackle the information asymmetry and empower students to choose colleges more rationally, families to find the most cost-effective means of financing and make quality higher education more accessible.
Also, access to information is important for students to make right choices in colleges and lenders. About 80% of the students in this country are not able to make the right financing decisions, which results in heavy debts. GradRight was created to bridge this gap, providing students with the right information to help them make informed decisions.
Last comes the role of a lender, the financing partners. They ensure that the student and the university are matched; as a lender, they can put their money on this to make financing efficient.
The location of the student is not a hindrance anymore. They will have access to all the 15 partner banks on the GradRight platform and to all the 30,000 programmes on the platform. An AI-powered system will help these students match their needs with the right choice of universities, followed by the right choice of lender. You can be anywhere in this country, choose your college and fund your college without getting out of your home.
Pic: Aman Singh, Co-Founder, GradRight
ET: GradRight calls itself the world’s first AI-powered ed-fintech SaaS ecosystem. Could you elaborate on this claim?
AS: Traditionally, students have applied for loans to multiple banks and waited for up to 60 days to know the result. Sometimes banks would also apply their sales and service teams through the entire process to eventually reject the loan application. Both students and banks suffered from this inefficiency. Besides, good quality service providers or financing institutions have struggled to grow their services as the entire process is done manually.
Using machine learning, GradRight helps predict the ‘fundability’ score, using every student’s unique credit profile. It also predicts the chance of financing by every lender. This match-making process makes the entire application, sales and service process efficient. What used to take 60 days can be done in 60 seconds, unlocking a lot of value for students and lenders.
ET: How has GradRight’s AI guidance changed decision-making for lower-income students choosing universities and financial options?
AS: The platform uses machine learning to generate the best recommendations of colleges and sources of financing most suitable for every student’s profile. The algorithm picks up all the relevant academic, financial and professional data along with the preferences of students and plays it with millions of data points for thousands of programmes to generate a hyper-personalised set of choices, without bias and reliably, at scale for thousands of students at the same time.
A suite of applications enables students to understand the possibilities of financing and scholarships, engaging directly with university representatives.
GradRight has partnered with all major education financing institutions, including international lenders. It also offers its flagship product, FundRight, the world’s first education loan bidding platform. It places the student at the centre and makes the lenders compete to offer the best loan products for every student.
ET: What are the primary challenges faced by students from smaller towns while seeking higher education abroad, and how does GradRight address these?
AS: The heart of the challenge is misplaced assumptions of whether it is even possible for a talented student from smaller towns to take up international education. GradRight, in a few clicks on the platform, can show the possibilities available for such students.
Today, through GradRight, every student in the country can get access to every major education financing organisation and get unsecured loans of Rs 20-70 lakhs.
ET: How many students have GradRight helped?
AS: In the last two and half years, GradRight has reached close to over 200,000 students organically in tier-II and -III cities and over 2,000-plus smaller towns and villages of India. Of the 90,000 students who actively used the platform to figure out which college they should choose and what kind of loans could be ideal for them, 80% of them come with a family with an income of less than Rs 10 lakh.
ET: GradRight has formed strategic partnerships with major educational institutions. How do these collaborations benefit students?
AS: GradRight’s tools provide guidance on programme selection, enable interaction with faculty and alumni, and help compare the best education loan options. There is a committed team of service support members who help students use the platform and interpret the offers made by lenders and college choices generated by the system.