Online coaching for civil service exams fuels a $15 billion business
* There are some 30,000 coaching institutes across the country looking to go digital to reach students beyond metropolitan cities
* Edtech companies such as NeoStencil, Unacademy, TestBook, Gradeup, and VisionIAS help students access online coaching courses
* Coaching courses for competitions represent an activity estimated at 15 billion dollars
Growing up in Geedam in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, Namrata Jain dreamed of joining the Indian administrative service. She was well aware of the respect of the officers of this elite service commanded in every town and village of India. But passing the difficult entrance exam, which millions of young Indians prepare for day and night every year, was easier said than done for a girl in Namrata’s situation.
The nearest training center was in Dantewada district, about 20 km from her home. Living in an area prone to nasal violence, it was difficult for him to integrate a coaching center. She tried to move to Delhi for a short time, but returned unable to cope with the challenges of living alone in a metropolitan city.
And yet, in 2018, Namrata not only passed the Union Civil Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Service Examination but also ranked No. 12 all-India. Without leaving home, she took the coaching courses provided by the Lukmaan IAS Academy through the Delhi-based online coaching center NeoStencil India.
Created in 2015 by Kush Beejal, an alumnus of IIT-Bombay and IIM-Calcutta, NeoStencil was inspired by Beejal’s own struggles preparing for competitive exams during his student days.
“After working as an investment banker and corporate finance manager, I decided to go freelance. Considering the obstacles my brother and I encountered while preparing for competitive exams, I decided to ‘entering the test prep segment of the education sector and solving the problems faced by millions of students,’ he says.
Join the dots
A first rank holder in the 2019 Civil Service Examination, Pradeep Singh hails from Tewri village in Sonipat, Haryana.
“Technology has bridged the gap between rural and urban students,” Singh, who also took NeoStencil’s online courses, told BL
At one end are the approximately 30,000 coaching institutes scattered across the country looking to go digital to reach students beyond metropolitan cities; and on the other, the millions of students who want to access these courses from home.
Bringing them together are companies such as NeoStencil, Unacademy, TestBook, Gradeup and VisionIAS – all of which belong to the edtech sector, which harnesses digital technology to deliver educational services. They do this by first digitally activating offline coaching institutes and then helping students discover these institutes and connect with them through their online platforms.
“When we were doing our pilot project in January 2015, our technology was not up to scratch. Yet, a student wanted to pay and prepare for UPSC on our platform. He was an investment banker in New York. This gave us the assurance that we were bringing real added value to the user. Six months later, he became our first angel investor and a recurring user for the next three years,” says Beejal.
Today, NeoStencil makes educational materials available from around 100 institutes in the form of live online courses – nearly 500 every year. “We are currently focusing on the work of the government [entrance] the exam segment, which receives approximately 70 million applications every year,” says Beejal.
To get government jobs, every year about 50 million Indians prepare for entrance exams for UPSC, banking and the National Defense Academy, among others. 10 million more people are preparing for college entrance exams such as Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for IITs, National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) for undergraduate courses degree in medicine and dentistry and the Common Law Admissions Test (CLAT) for law schools. This, in turn, generates demand for coaching courses, which is an estimated $15 billion business.
The size of this company is expected to grow further due to the changes brought about by the new education policy which requires students to pass a common entrance test for university admission, instead of the existing system of having to pass. press notes Std XII. Beejal plans to increase the number of coaching institutes on its platform to 1,000 and meet more competitive exams in the coming years.
NeoStencil allows students to choose courses from all institutes – for example, History from Institute A and Geography from Institute Y. It streams courses from the institutes live.
Online coaching, says Beejal, has also resulted in more women signing up. Female applicants make up 30-35% of all applications to UPSC and other government jobs; at NeoStencil, nearly 50% of users are women.
“It’s a great validation of our platform…helping girls realize their dream of joining the best jobs and institutes, which would otherwise be difficult for them in our conservative society, as it means moving to coaching centers” , says Beejal.
Last month, congratulating young people from minority communities who had been selected for the 2019 civil service promotion with the help of his ministry’s free coaching programs, Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also observed that ” more than 50% of these scholarship program beneficiaries are girls”.
Free coaching under the “NaiUdaan” and “NayaSavera” programs for minority communities covers UPSC and other competitions, he added.
A booming market
At NeoStencil, students pay between ₹3,000 and ₹1 lakh for a coaching program. Students from needy sections and remote areas receive up to 30% scholarships, says Beejal. He adds that online courses help students save on the relocation costs they would incur if they moved to study at the coaching centers in places such as New Delhi, Kota and Hyderabad.
With online coaching, students can also pursue a regular job at the same time, thanks to the flexible schedule.
Out of more than 1.5 lakh students who have used the NeoStencil platform so far, more than 400 have entered the civil service.
Beejal believes that the current economic situation will only increase the demand for coaching services. “Amid India’s economic downturn and growing job insecurity in the private sector, many undergraduates are turning to government jobs as a career,” he explains.