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Neighbourhood tutorial's grand grad

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BACK TO BASICS: The coaching industry is now vying for the school and college education market

In 1979, P Narayana started a tutorial in Nellore. Today the uber-rich Narayana Group is more than just a large commercial coaching institute. Had it been granted university status, it would list among the largest in the country with its 100 campuses that enroll 1. 75 lakh students annually. What started off as an extension to the education system is now running residential schools, engineering, medical and dental colleges.

Twenty days after graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, 21-year-old Pramod Maheshwari started coaching a bunch of engineering aspirants in a tiny shack in Kota. Little did he guess that 19 years on, he would go on to start the Career Point University. In the interim, Maheshwari opened countless coaching academies in India, a CBSE school in Kota and is now foraying into university education with the Rs 115 crore he raised in a recent IPO.

The neighbourhood coaching classes that helped children cope with the pressures of competition have graduated - many are now schools and colleges themselves.

The players include management and engineering coaching class chains like IMS, TIME and Career Launcher;as also local tutorial establishments like the fourdecade-old Mumbai-based Vidyalankar and S M Lall, IITian's Pace, a newbie, or Punebased Behere Classes and the JSS Group in Bangalore. For most, funds have come from their own reserves, accrued from years of coaching. With the demand for education growing, these institutes know where growth lies.

If all the social sectors were plotted on a pie, education would make up the largest slice. By conservative estimates, the country's education market can be pegged at Rs 2. 5 lakh crore. About 540 million people are under the age of 26;220 million students attend schools in India and 10 lakh engineers and 3 lakh managers graduate every year. Therefore the great demand and greater rush to fulfill it.

With enough money to go around, coaching classes didn't have to claw or squeeze their way in;they didn't have to pull down barriers or skirt the fence. A case in point: in the summer of 2007, TIME, a coaching class chain for management and engineering entrance exams, began admitting toddlers to playschools in Hyderabad. The plan was to quickly expand to 70 cities where they already had a presence. The class will invest Rs 15 lakh in each before moving on to set up CBSE schools.

The second half of 2007 saw action hotting up further. TIME's baby steps started a stampede. IMS was among the first to join hands with the Jamshedpur-based XLRI to set up the Praxis Business School in Kolkata;soon after, Career Launcher opened admissions to its Indus World School of Business in Noida.

Founder-director of TIME coaching classes Manek Daruvala says investment in his playschools vary from "locality to locality and city to city". For him, getting into the mainstream was natural as both formal and non-formal education "require the same skill sets".

Career Launcher ploughed about 65 per cent of its reserves for its expansion plans;the remaining funds were raised through venture capital. The total investment envisaged over the next three years is Rs 100 crore. Chairman of Career Launcher Satya Narayanan feels going mainstream is a natural route to growth. In the offing are finishing courses for graduating engineers.
If coaching classes were the tiny internal roads now being broadened to multiplelane highways, then even the small players of the industry are going that path. After over four decades of running the S M Lall Coaching Classes in Malad, a suburb in Mumbai, the proprietor has set up a mammoth Lord's College building next door.

Their science and commerce degree courses are full and now the college has added an MBA programme, a hotel management degree course, BMM and BMS courses. In Andhra Pradesh, every high school running class XI and XII additionally readies students for competitive entrance test. It's the way of life here, says the spokesperson of The Narayana Group, which has simultaneously expanded its coaching academies across India too.

After all, that's where the big bucks come from.

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