R Balakrishnan
The Business of IIT Education

It’s time to push the ‘coaching-class’ industry out of existence

"It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot, irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it."
- J Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

Our education system has been a source of endless debate. We point to a few successful Indians who came out of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and proclaim that our IITs are the best in the world. However, based on personal experience, I can vouch that our education system is in bad shape. Those who hope to get into the hallowed portals of the IITs (a couple of them figure among the top 100 engineering colleges in the world) go through living hell. Around six lakh youngsters take the entrance test. Of these, around 12,000 can get in. This covers all seats, including those in the new additional colleges, caste-based seats, etc. Of course, if you want the course of your choice, you have to finish within the top few hundred! Heartbreak for 99% of the aspirants, as they end up in some lowly college; many cough up huge capitation fees for 'merit' seats!

The educational qualification needed to get into these colleges is passing the 12th standard. So, is it not logical to presume that, in any entrance test for these colleges, the questions should be based on what is taught up to the 12th standard? Instead, students are bombarded with literature, advertisements and hoardings from educational coaching factories which specialise in imparting the skills required to crack the entrance examinations. In fact, cities like Kota (in Rajasthan) have perfected it to a high level. A couple of coaching classes also run schools.

From standard 11 or earlier, aspiring engineers join the factory. School hours are truncated to ensure time availability for the IIT entrance exam coaching. Given that most of the students admitted to these coaching classes (most of them have 'entrance' tests!) have cleared an intellectual hurdle, they do well in the 11th and 12th standard without too much effort. Of course, the 11th standard examination is an 'internal' exam, so it is even easier.

But if one cannot afford to join a 'coaching class' for the IIT entrance exam, getting a seat in one of these institutes is only a remote possibility. What's more, the coaching fees far exceed the fees for the entire engineering course at any of the IITs! These 'factories' do not come cheap. The cost can be anywhere from fifty thousand rupees to a couple of lakhs for a two-year coaching stint. Long hours, stress from peers as well as from others is an integral part of life. Every year, these classes boast of how many students from their 'factory' cleared the entrance tests with high ranks. Many students do not join full-time, but participate in some event or mock competition organised by these classes.

The key to the success of these classes is their faculty. Since they charge high fees, they tend to poach on experienced hands from the IITs at salaries that are multiples of what IITs pay them. In the process, the IITs lose good-quality staff.

Of course, many of the coaching classes have managed to make impressive PowerPoint presentations of their 'business' and raise money at fancy pricing from (ad)venture capitalists. What they present is scalability of their business which, in real life, is not possible. Many classes run because of the individuals manning them. Hence, it is not possible to replicate them on a commercial scale.

Against this backdrop, I like what Kapil Sibal is doing. Hopefully, he is bringing sanctity into the system and doing away with the coaching classes. By giving weightage to the 12th standard exams, he is rightfully pushing the coaching-class industry out of existence. A combination of 12th standard marks combined with an aptitude test focused on basic science/mathematics should suffice as 'entrance' exams for engineering colleges. If Mr Sibal also focuses on improving the infrastructure and the teaching staff emoluments at the IITs, there is no reason for the existence of coaching classes.

Yet, it is debatable whether this will improve the quality of output produced by the IITs. I think it will not make it any worse. In any case, most IIT graduates seem to be taking up an MBA course and not doing anything that their IIT degree equipped them to do. If one looks at the global engineering scene, countries like China, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea are far ahead of us. And the best of the Indian students tend to land up in the USA.

The immediate fallout I can visualise is on the coaching-classes business, which seems headed down. I only hope that Mr Sibal does not leave deliberate room for their ilk to survive. In any case, with the advent of electronic teaching methods, the business of mass education cannot remain profitable for long. Dealing with government schools (which are the customers for many businesses) is neither easy nor straight. Also, accounting profits need not translate into surplus cash flow, looking at the way the education business companies keep raising money.




6 years ago

what a shameful article.you are actually wishing a voluntary industry(nobody forces you to go to an IIT) to be shut down so that babus and netas can whip up some hysteria over useless govt schools.i say shut down the AICTE and kapil sibal -we dont need more central planning in education. balki has been a successful product of socialist education.wow.now thats what i call a good ROI by nehru's temples of learning.

pushkar kulkarni

6 years ago

dear mr balakrishnan

iit is overhyped and overrated concept. i have stidiede there, u cannot fail there!!! iitian is treated as god's gift to mankind while they have feet of clay.
i did p g there. the contribution to indian economy from rec and colleges like coep pune( my college!) , vjti is much better.they have generated a lot of jobs and not sold soap /toothpaste or hedging products. mathematics background is good enough for mba .
company's have realised hard way about short term horizon of these u g 's.


6 years ago

I beg to differ. Where you got so many of your facts wrong, I do not know. Let me go point by point.

1. IIT-JEE tests your analytical abilities as well as conceptual grasp of knowledge. 12th Board Examinations test your ability to mug from the textbook senselessly and without even having to understand. This is valid to such an extent that a typical 12th Class teacher would not be able to solve an IIT-JEE question, simply because he has been teaching the same old textbooks for many years, which never push him to think "out of the box". It is a fact that most Board toppers do not get a good rank in IIT-JEE, and a good rank in IIT-JEE does not guarantee a good percentage in board examinations. This is precisely the reason IIT-JEE/AIEEE exist. Because the "thinking skills" you need as a good engineer do not come from giving board examinations, unfortunately. And as a matter of fact, it is this "training" which coaching institutes provide that sharpen your mind and build analytical skills.

2. Coming to Kapil Sibal's idea of setting a certain weight-age to board examinations, it frightens me what students used to rote-learning would do in an IIT. It has been often seen that SC/ST students underperform in IITs, simply since they do not have the right abilities. A more practical issue: India has at least more than 20 state boards, each with their own level of difficulty, conceptual level, and marking scheme. Any school boy will tell you it is too easy to score 90% in one board, and yet no one might exceed 85% in another. Trying to normalize scores would actually require a lot of research and complex formulae to take into account varying difficulty, student performance etc.

3. As I infer from your statements, you mean coaching institutes hire faculty from IITs. One thing to be made clear: Faculty at IIT are in IIT because they love their job. They love the research they do, they cherish teaching to the students they do. There are enough private universities in India to mop them up with 10 times salaries if they wished to. I have known students from many, many coaching institutes, and have NEVER heard of an IIT faculty member leaving IIT to join a coaching center. Yes, sometimes retired Professors do take up such positions, but that is really it.

4. "Best of the Indian students land in the US": This is a statement straight out of the 90s. The scenario has changed immensely. A lot of students work in India now. If you are talking about MS/PhD, that's because of the good universities there, and mind you, people are making a beeline for India after their degrees.

5. "An aptitude test focused on basic science/mathematics": Which is exactly what IIT-JEE is, co-incidentally.

6. "Most IIT graduates seem to be taking up an MBA course": Wrong again. I would peg the figure at 5-10% at most. Most students take up jobs (that too in India). And your IIT education does not go waste. All right, you are not exactly into engineering, but the analytical skills and personality you build in IITs is what makes an IIT-IIM degree so much in demand.

I'm a third year undergraduate at IIT Bombay, and believe there are many wrong perceptions people have about the entrance exam, and IITs in general. Which is precisely my reason for writing this. So is the "coaching-class" industry justified? I agree it is not. But solutions that have been suggested time and again simply will not work. Period.



In Reply to Ruchir 6 years ago

One point is 12th education is like a mugging box and instead of improving board education they are going to reduce analytical skills of solving problems.IIT entrance level problems should be given in 12th exams and for increasing the level of creativity in particular area,there shoud be no provision of being fail. so that student can choose in which field he has to go wheathere engineering or elsewhere.

Queen Elizabeth the Second of England

In Reply to Abhishek 6 years ago

Life is tough , some will pass and some will fail, get used to it
telling a kid he will not fail is just creating makebelieve world
plus in IIT coaching classes if people are willing to pay and they get reasonable quality teaching what is the problem
after all the problem is because most colleges are nonsense
and for those who are poor there are programs like Super 30 which is absolutely brilliant idea, they should be expanded to Super 300.
Either way your article talks only nonsense

Will the Vento help Volkswagen finally make its presence felt in India?

Volkswagen is trying its best to penetrate the booming Indian auto market, after a much-delayed start

This has never been attempted before in India. First, a huge banner is drawn up, covering the front of the 10-storey DLF Towers in the heart of Connaught Place, New Delhi. On a windy day. Next, two cars are pulled up along the front of the same building, inch by inch — as though glued to the walls and plate-glass windows. Finally, the cars themselves are then previewed to the media, and there is more hidden than revealed.

The VW Vento is the 3-box sedan, probably slotted somewhere in the price range of the Maruti DZire and Hyundai Verna, and quality range of the Honda City, as far as positioning goes. An important part of VW’s armoury to make a “strategic entry” into the Indian market, one that they’ve really missed the bus for a few decades now. Almost three decades after this company said a fairly abrupt ‘no’ when invited to take part in the Maruti project, and further misadventures en route, VW finally brings something which it hopes will be a game-changer in the emerging 3-box sedan segment. This appealing looking car, not available anywhere else in the world according to the manufacturers, is expected to be made available to Indian customers by around the last month of 2010.

It has been launched in two versions, petrol and diesel, 5-speed manual and 6-speed automatic. Pleasant interiors, but here again, these were for preview — nothing which may not change in the production version. Fairly standard dashboard and console, with parts like control stems which have been seen in other vehicles, but luckily on the right hand drive configurations. As of now, it is planned to be sold in only two colours, white and red. Higher-end safety features like ABS and airbags will be standard, as well as height-adjustable seats and front armrests. A neat trick is the ability to adjust the front seat’s position while sitting in the rear — especially important for the left rear seat chauffer-driven passenger.

For the rest, what remains unsaid and uncommented on are the queries on price as well as warranties. VW media conferences tend to be events which are conducted as one-way lectures, after which the Germans talk with the Germans and getting answers out of them is like pulling out teeth. This is unlike press conferences from some other companies, where a lot more warmth is on display and exchanged. VW interaction tends to be more stiff, along the ‘we know it already, and you should be glad we are here’ kind of approach. This too will change.

Certainly, the VW Vento will bring in a game-changing element into the 3-box sedan segment in India, though the lack of a sufficiently wide dealer network may yet influence matters, and customer feedback on the Polo means matters are still out with the jury. But a first glance makes it very clear that the VW Vento is likely to be a tough car, capable of withstanding rough Indian roads, though the motto and punch-line ‘simplicity’ may not find favour with people looking for something more at that price.

And most importantly, that price is yet unknown. However, just as the VW Polo benchmarks the Maruti Swift, it is expected that the VW Vento will benchmark the Maruti DZire. Anything higher will not work, in the opinion of this correspondent. The car is designed and built to a price, simply.


CIBIL launches fraud and high-risk activity information database

CIBIL Detect is an exhaustive repository of information on spurious activities that not only captures the methods used to commit fraud, but can also indicate whether the person or organisation was a victim of fraud or was involved in it

Credit Information Bureau (India) Ltd (CIBIL) and TransUnion together have launched CIBIL Detect — a nationwide database of reported fraudulent and suspect activities. CIBIL Detect will address the need for better collaboration and the sharing of information on fraud and high-risk activities throughout the banking and financial industry, it said in a release.

"Banks and financial institutions have been reporting rising cases of frauds and spurious incidences. Realising the urgent requirement of an industry-wide system for fraud control, the Indian Banks' Association (IBA) entrusted CIBIL and TransUnion to develop an exhaustive repository of information on spurious activities that will not only capture the methods used to commit a fraud, but can also indicate whether the person or organization was a victim of fraud or was involved in it," said Arun Thukral, managing director, CIBIL.

In addition to reported fraudulent and suspicious activities, CIBIL Detect also contains valuable information on high-risk vendors and agents, which credit grantors can share and access. It will also keep a track of the modus operandi of individuals who have committed banking-related frauds in the past.

CIBIL Detect has been designed to help at both an organizational as well as an industry level. At an organisational level, it will act as a comprehensive nationwide repository that can be used to check if the business prospect has been involved in any spurious activity. On an industry level, CIBIL Detect will fuel the regulatory body's efforts towards creating a healthy and sound credit culture by effectively identifying, recording and sharing information on high-risk activities.


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