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The saga of traditional IT institutes in the age of EdTech

Post the pandemic, where education has taken an overhaul, and there has been an overdependence on digital means of learning; where does the future of these institutes lie?
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In the early 1980s to 2010s era, when the online edtech platforms had not found their footing yet, there were brick and mortar training institutes like NIIT and Aptech. They truly flourished when the field of computer and information technology was beginning to emerge in India, taking up the mantle to train fresh graduates on the skills required for these jobs. Every major city and town had these swanky training institutes where students could train and get certified in a range of computer skills. 

Cut to 2022, post the pandemic, where education has taken an overhaul, and there has been an overdependence on digital means of learning; where does the future of these institutes lie?

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NIIT

Founded in 1981 by IIT Delhi graduates Rajendra S Pawar and Vijay K Thadani, NIIT tapped on the IT boom of that era. This chain of institutes was the first of its kind in the IT education sector to have conceived the franchising model, setting up nine centres by 1987.

NIIT’s model and target audience kept evolving – they also started targeting the elderly and housewives. They also started training banking and retail professionals in IT skills. Taking inspiration from medical education that combines academic training with simultaneous practical training, NIIT decided to branch into offering software services, helping students gain practical knowledge as well.

In 2003, reports started floating about a possible demerger of NIIT to spin off a separate company for its global software solutions business. By the end of the year, company representatives officially corroborated the news and the following year, the NIIT Technologies Limited (NTL) was formed. The global education, learning and knowledge solutions were retained in the parent company NIIT. Eventually, in 2019, NTL was sold to Barings Private Equity for Rs 2,627 crore, and NIIT stuck back to education. 

This year, NIIT announced that it would further demerge its two business verticals – Corporate Learning Group (CLG) and Skills and Careers (SNC) as two separate units; both would be listed on the stock market. Explaining this split, the chairman said that NIIT’s services could be easily demarcated into two parts, which are interlinked but different. One is the Corporate Learning Group (CLG), which accounts for up to 85 per cent of the company’s revenues; the other is the Skills and Careers (SNC) business. Pawar said in an interview, “We felt there were two trajectories and two kinds of things going on with the brand NIIT. We felt the geographies of the two businesses were different, the business strategies different, and the customer profiles different.” That said, the content creation, testing engine, learning engine, and platforms were common; they were used differently. 

Now, CLG acts as a B2B business and is focused on North America and the EU, and has Fortune 1000 companies as its target companies. On the other hand, SNC has both B2C and B2B customers and is focused on India, China, and Africa.

Aptech

Another major non-vocational training institute that mushroomed around the education hubs of almost all major cities in India was Aptech. Founded in 1986 and incorporated in 2000 as Aptech Training Ltd, the company offers education and training services to retail and non-retail customers across the world. In 2002, Aptech was rechristened Aptech Ltd.

Aptech reported a profit of over 23 crores in the quarter that ended March 2022 against the net loss of 12.12 crore during the previous quarter that ended March 2021. On the downside, in 2021, Aptech had to shut down its operations in Uganda after 20 years of existence. The decision to dissolve the institution was passed by the governing body and endorsed by Uganda’s National Council for Higher Education. Aptech also faced a major blow in Vietnam, one of its largest markets, in the mid of 2021. The growth rate came down from 50 per cent to almost 5 per cent.

Traditionally a face-to-face physical training company, during the pandemic, Aptech decided to ‘reinvent’ itself and started a completely online remote delivery model. As per the company’s representatives, the target would remain first-time job seekers. The company spent 2.5 crores in building the platform; the company would be further investing up to 20 crores for creating content and 15 crores towards growing this business in the next 2-3 years. During the lockdown, Aptech’s online education platform delivered more than three million hours of learning; this included 600,000 live hours of tutor-led training – acquiring 19,000 students in India and 32,000 students worldwide. The company expects it to reach 20 per cent of its total revenues by 2023, Aptech head Anil Pant said in an interview. Pant said that the advantage that Aptech has over the Byjus’ and Vedantus of the world is that they just occupy the K-12 and hobby coding space, while Aptech maintains an eagle-like focus on first-time job seekers.

Other major players

JetKing Institutes was in the news recently for launching a collection of 10,000 Web 3.0 Lion NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain – Jetking Gold collection was priced at Rs 9,000 per NFT, and the JetKing Premium collection was priced at Rs 40,000.

The origin story of Jetking is very interesting. Jetking was founded in 1947 by Late GP Bharwani. A freedom fighter, he started an agency called the Nava Bharath Radio Agencies, which dealt with surpluses like radios, gramophones, and other transmissions, which were in abundance after World War II. He then started importing these surpluses as Do it Yourself kits, where the assembling has to be done by the purchaser. It was then that the idea for training students in hardware was formed. In its current form, Jetking is a computer networking institute.

The institute has 100 centres across India, a majority of which are franchise-run. In 2012, Suresh G. Bharwani, Chairman and managing director of JetKings, said that they developed a cloud-based digital platform for making digital lectures, practicals and tutorials.

Started in 2002, Hughes Global Education Initiative – a subsidiary of Hughes Networks that offers high-speed satellite internet services – has been another popular onsite training institute. Hughes Education offers a real-time interactive onsite learning platform. In the recent past, Hughes Education partnered with IIM Indore and IIM Calcutta to offer programmes to working executives. Hughes Education and MDI Gurgoan also tied up to launch online development programmes for working professionals.

Most of these physical institutes have managed to survive because of diversifying to other services or moving to digital platforms. At a time when online edtech platforms are raking big money, the survival of these institutions poses a big question.

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Shraddha Goled
I am a technology journalist with AIM. I write stories focused on the AI landscape in India and around the world with a special interest in analysing its long term impact on individuals and societies. Reach out to me at shraddha.goled@analyticsindiamag.com.

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