GTB Nagar, less than a kilometre from the Delhi University’s (DU’s) North Campus, is hugely popular among high school and college students. The neighbourhood is where they head to prepare for various competitive exams, especially civil services. However, coaching centres here have found a new favourite this academic season.
Billboards put up by test-prep institutes like Adhyayan Mantra IAS and Career Launcher mark the arrival of their new cash cow—the Common University Entrance Test (CUET).
In March, the University Grants Commission (UGC) made the CUET mandatory for admissions in all undergraduate programmes—including science, commerce, and humanities—offered by the central universities like the DU, doing away with the class 12 board marks-based cut-off system.
The CUET has seen over 910,000 registrations, making it the second-largest entrance exam in the country, surpassing the engineering entrance exam JEE (Main). Nearly 90 universities, including 21 private and 12 state universities, have participated in the first edition of the test for the 2022-23 academic session.
Facing a funding crunch, big edtech players like Byju’s, Unacademy, and Vedantu, are also looking to cash in on the opportunity. The edtechs that mainly target science students for the entrance exams for medical and engineering colleges, i.e. the NEET and the JEE, respectively, can now onboard hundreds of thousands of commerce and humanities students for the CUET preparations.
In July, the online test-prep platform Toprankers raised $4 million in a fresh funding round led by Sixth Sense Ventures and said it would use the funds for an early entry into the CUET segment.
Making an early move will also allow these players an opportunity to retain these students in other preparatory courses for civil services, law, and management, such as the Common Admission Test (CAT), providing a steady revenue stream potentially for 4-5 years.
“The stakes, therefore, are higher. There’s more scope for coaching institutes than even the JEE market since one needs to prepare for different types of exams under the CUET,” says Shubham Bansal, a senior team member at a Delhi-based coaching centre VisionIAS.
There are also concerns that with board marks carrying no weightage, the move will likely lead to the mushrooming of “dummy schools” that typically allow students to skip classes to attend coaching centres and directly sit for examinations. In some cases, they open classrooms to coaching institutes via tie-ups, sacrificing regular classes, practicals, projects, and other scheduled extra-curricular activities.
“Institutes” working on getting students admitted into such schools are already seeing increased traction. “Earlier, the queries for admissions into dummy schools used to come mostly from the science students. But now we are seeing more demand from commerce and humanities students too,” a customer care representative of West Delhi-based Rajshri Institute told The Ken. As a result, there is a “maara-maari” (scuffle) for seats in “premium dummy schools”, they added.