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“SOME PEOPLE FEEL FRUSTRATED THAT THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THINGS WILL LOOK LIKE IN FIVE YEARS, BUT I LOVE IT.”
Interview with Jesus Lanza, Founder and CEO of Lottus Education
Tertiary education institutions around the world are adapting to a world where students increasingly interact and gain their knowledge through digital channels. We interviewed Jesus Lanza, CEO of Lottus Education, a major higher education provider in Mexico, about the market’s rapid evolution, his collaboration with IFC’s Digital for Tertiary Education Program (D4TEP) to improve the university’s digital strategy, and Lottus’ increased focus on student employability.
How digitally mature are higher education institutions in Mexico?
Mexico is still lagging compared to some other Latin American markets like Brazil and Colombia—online students make up about only 15 percent of the total in Mexico. However, the pandemic has accelerated the sector’s digital transformation. So, for example, while total student enrolment dropped during the pandemic, it increased in the hybrid and online format, both in state-owned and even more so in private universities. Interestingly, the increase occurred more in the hybrid sector than in the fully online sector. What is happening in Mexico is very similar to what happened in Brazil over the past decade where the student population is now about half online, half offline. I expect that by 2025 or so, the situation will be similar in Mexico.
What’s been the biggest challenge for your company in digitizing education?
Driving change forward. People are used to working in a certain manner and trying to do things differently requires a lot of humility and self-awareness. The number two challenge is data analytics. We need timely and accurate data such as key performance indicators, engagement, and attrition levels to make decisions. For a company like ours, which grew from 6,000 to 80,000 students in six years, it is essential to have a simplified, unitary database that tells us how happy our students are with the service we deliver. And the third challenge is setting priorities. There’s a quote I love: ‘I have only two kinds of problems: urgent and important. The important are never urgent and the urgent are never important.’ This is our dilemma. We want to grow as fast as possible and impact the whole sector, we are always in a rush. But we need to think about winning the long-term game.
What are the limits of what technologies can do in higher education?
Technology is a tool. It might be a catalyst or a differentiating factor, but for us success is defined more by talent, methodology, and culture. As technologies transform the higher education sector, some people feel frustrated that they do not know what things will look like in five years, but I love it. It helps you keep a healthy curiosity and to keep learning. We are helping students who will do jobs that in five years will be entirely new. Of course, technology has its limitations, but it helps us expand our limits and horizons.
With employability foremost in students’ minds, what digital initiatives are you considering that will equip them with in-demand skills?
Employability is becoming a big theme for us. If we don’t deliver a high degree of employability, our product won’t be consumed. We have alliances with over 800 companies who can post their job offerings on our website. We also have a partnership with a Spanish startup, beWanted, that serves as an enabler between companies and universities, matching companies with the right talent. We give our students webinars with specialists who teach them things like how to build a CV or perform at a job interview. We also give them soft skills, so they do not only acquire hard information. Today, you can obtain information in many ways, so our mission is to help students evolve, to become better professionals—and better human beings.
What are some of the best practices your company followed in implementing a digital strategy?
The secret sauce is to build the right talent. We hired people from other universities, edtech companies, other digital education providers, consultants, and investment banks. Then you need to set the right priorities. Certain things need to be digitized as soon as possible, but other elements work well as they are and can remain not digital. Thirdly, be humble and acknowledge there are many things you do not know and sometimes you need to get outside advice. Finally, have strong communicators because all this effort is useless if it is not communicated in the right manner.
What did you learn working with the D4TEP team?
We identified over 40 projects that would enable us transform digitally and we prioritized among these projects. The IFC team worked with us in different formats: individual meetings, groups, smaller breakout groups. Sometimes the focus was practical, other times theoretical. They provided specific examples of other universities who have driven digital transformation and how this impacted their delivery and return on investment. And we did all this in just a few weeks. The experienced helped a lot in planting the roots to drive change.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Published in November 2021