Irish e-learning firm in major Chinese Government deal

20 Oct 2004

Irish e-learing company ThirdForce has won a major deal with the Chinese Government that will see International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) training made available to a potential market of more than 346 million people – some 26pc of China’s 1.3 billion population. China is widely expected to become the world’s largest ICDL market.

The Children’s Welfare Institute Computer Activity Centre of Shanghai is ThirdForce’s first live customer. A further 24 centres are piloting the software and ThirdForce products will then be rolled out to hundreds of training and testing centres in the nine targeted regions, ultimately reaching more than 346 million people, 26pc of the nation’s population of 1.3 billion. If the programme in China follows a similar growth trajectory to that in the UK, for example, it has the potential to attract 26 million participants by 2010.

The Chinese Government regards computer literacy levels as crucial in improving overall work efficiency. It has adopted an e-learning strategy to train workers for new age jobs as more multinationals strengthen their position in the world’s fastest-growing economy.

ThirdForce signed the agreement with the IT Training Quality and Certification Institute Limited (ITTQC), the regional exclusive accreditation agent for ICDL for China, Hong Kong and Macau. According to ITTQC’s managing director Frankie Yung: “Chinese employers are demanding internationally recognised IT qualifications. ThirdForce demonstrated its successful management of ICDL programmes globally and was able to introduce a Chinese language ICDL test to our specification. Their resources, commitment and expertise were the key factors in our decision to partner with them.”

China has more than 1,000 universities with 20 million students as well as more than 800 colleges and 800 distance-learning colleges. However, when set against its population, education in China is still under-cultivated. Only 26pc of Chinese citizens have more than nine years of schooling. Distance education will be the key to solve 21st century problems.

ThirdForce’s chief executive, Brendan O’Sullivan, said: “This is another step in the continuing development of our international business. From experience in the Middle East and elsewhere, we are aware that it takes a number of years for the ICDL to gain traction in a new market. Although we are not expecting significant revenues in the short term, we are excited about the long-term potential.”

In September, ThirdForce announced half-year revenues of €5.8m, an increase of 114pc from the previous year, together with a rise in operating profits before goodwill and non-recurring items of €623k. It also announced the successful roll out of automated testing to the UK’s 2040 LearnDirect centres and a pioneering joint venture with the UK’s largest provider of education materials, Harcourt Education.

By John Kennedy