Every year, 900,000 students looking to crack the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and other top engineering exams, make a beeline for the top coaching institutes in the country. But the competition to get into them is just as much a rat race.

Institutes like Aakash, FIITJEE, Allen, or the numerous coaching factories clustered in the college town of Kota, Rajasthan, charge anywhere between Rs 1-4 lakh ($1,400-5,600) for their services annually. And there aren’t enough seats to go around.

The market size of this mammoth industry was expected to surpass $40 billion by 2015, growing 35% year-on-year between 2012 and 2016, according to a survey by industry body ASSOCHAM. This rapid growth was buoyed by a huge catchment of aspirants keen to ace the JEE, the gateway to the country’s prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). 

This year, 17-year-old Chirag Jain placed 41 out of the 1,73,000 candidates registered for the JEE (Advanced) to make it into IIT Delhi. In this rank-eat-rank world, that’s quite a feat. Jain pulled this off despite quitting his local FIITJEE centre in Dwarka, Delhi. Instead, he credits his success to Vedantu, a relatively little-known edtech platform. 

Jain’s decision to choose Vedantu over FIITJEE is significant. It’s a sign that an ageing and technologically outdated industry is under attack from a slew of new, online coaching platforms. And they’ve brought the fight right to the doorstep of offline coaching centres.

Chirag Jain's result has triggered a turf war between offline FIITJEE and online Vedantu. Both lay claim to Jain's high rank in the JEE (Picture credit: Olina Banerji/The Ken)

It isn’t that the current offline coaching ecosystem is broken per se, but the new breed of online platforms believe they’ve simply built a better mousetrap. One that allows for scale and reach, unlike anything the space has seen before.

Offline coaching institutes work on the principle of exclusion—high course fees, entrance exams, the need for physical proximity and 9-12 month lock-in periods. Online platforms, though, are turning this on its head.

Without any physical trappings, online coaching platforms can widely expand on the 1:35 offline ratio between students and tutors, and extend access to many more students in search of quality coaching. There are no benchmarking entrance exams to act as barriers, and there’s even the flexibility of bite-sized courses with lower pricing.

The convenience—of price, variety and logistics—has immense potential to disrupt the old guard. Upstarts like Vedantu and Unacademy are close on their heels, just waiting to hit the optimum number of subscribers to pick up a real fight.

And they’re not short on resources.

In April 2019, Vedantu raised $5 million from TAL Education, one of China’s largest edtech providers, to expand its customer base.


Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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