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.

surbhi pareek
6 years ago
If you decide to get into an IIT, you will have high chances of landing a job in one of the best companies. Of course, you have to work towards turning your dreams into reality during your college years. IITs teach students valuable skills required for managing events and boost their confidence to face the challenges posed in front of them.
There are many exam through which one can get into the IITs like IIT JEE, IIT JAM, GATE, CAT.

IIT JAM and GATE are two national level entrance exams conducted for the undergraduate students to pursue their master degree courses from IITs and IISc.
1 decade ago
what a shameful 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 thats what i call a good ROI by nehru's temples of learning.
pushkar kulkarni
1 decade 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.
1 decade 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.
Replied to Ruchir comment 1 decade 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
Replied to Abhishek comment 1 decade 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
Free Helpline
Legal Credit