Udacity to Offer Nanodegrees in China

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Online education provider Udacity has announced plans to expand its online degree offerings with classes tailored for Chinese students.

Created by former Google roboticist and Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, Udacity initially gained popularity when it offered college courses online at no cost to users in an effort to make learning more accessible.  However, the company drew criticism after students began to perform poorly and colleges that had previously partnered with them began to pull out.

In 2014, Udacity announced the creation of the “nanodegree,” a paid intensive certification course allowing participants to train for technical jobs including software development.  The company expanded its offerings last year into India.

The project, which is the second major international expansion for the startup, will localize many of the most popular nanodegree certifications to China.  Courses will be available in iOS, Android, and machine learning development.  A local team for the company will remain in China to offer in-person reviews and coaching in Mandarin.

Thrun said that although millions are graduating from college in China each year, tech firms in the country are continuously seeking out employees with specific skills pertaining to the latest technologies.

“There are many great universities teaching great things, but there are still huge needs that are unmet today,” Thrun said, adding that traditional college education has limited capacity to accept more students and teach the latest technologies.

A startup boom has recently launched in the country, as it continues to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.  The number of new enterprises in China has increased 21.6% year on year to 4.4 million in 2015, relating to about 12,000 new companies opening each day.

“China has a much bigger market and a rapidly growing economy with enormous talents we’d like to reach and educate,” Thrun said.

The company said it will be working with Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com and ride-sharing company Didi Kuadi in order to create the customized courses for students.  When expanding into India, the company worked with Google.

The courses take a total of six to nine months to complete and will come at a cost of $150 for Chinese students.  Udacity will refund students half of that cost once they graduate from the program.

In addition, 100 free online courses will made available in China.

Thrun told Leena Rao for Fortune that it took close to a year to be ready to launch the new program in China, as the majority of the company’s software needed to be recreated to fit the Chinese market.  “We want to get the Silicon Valley style education in front of everyone,” he said.

International expansion comes with the promise of added revenue; Nanodegrees have increased the company’s revenue by almost 30% each month.  One source claimed the annual revenue run rate for the company was close to $24 million.  The company has also just become a unicorn, a startup with a value of $1 billion or higher, after its most recent $105 million funding round in 2015.