WSET chief: Online exams are "game changer" for company

Wine and Spirits Education Trust CEO Ian Harris believes enhancing its online programmes in reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic will create more opportunities for the company after lockdowns are eased.

WSET announced at the end of last week that it had fast-tracked its digital education programmes to allow students to take online examinations during lockdown.

“From mid-March all of our classroom-based courses completely stopped around the world as we were forced to shut down under different lockdowns,” said Harris.

“We were staring down the barrel of our business coming to a complete stop, but prior to the pandemic we’d already begun investing in our online education programmes. We already had an online classroom which meant people could take a course remotely, but in 2019 that only accounted for about 8% of our students.

“What we’ve done since is fast-track the enhancement of the digital education programmes, and the final piece of the jigsaw was allowing students to conduct examinations online. This has been a real game changer for us because not only has it helped us out financially in the short term but it’s opened up more opportunities for the future.”

The company has also been able to offer courses to members of the industry which have suffered financially as a result of the pandemic outbreak.

Harris added: “We’ve been working with big spirits brands who’ve given us funds from their corporate responsibility budgets for people who have been furloughed or made redundant in the hospitality industry to put them through entry-level WSET courses.”

Although WSET has seen a surge in online courses in recent months, Harris thinks clasroom-based teaching will still play a key role for the company in the future.

“I think people will return to classroom-based education post lockdown,” said Harris. “The wine and spirits industry is a social one and people want to be in a classroom with a glass in their hand conversing with classmates. We’re thinking that classes will be limited to 12 students to adhere to the social distancing measures going forward.”

Currently WSET’s online courses are only available in English but the company is now enabling course providers to deliver its programmes in local languages through online conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.