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Monday, May 28, 2007

B-schools bring big bucks

Higher education in India is big business today. And this time of the year (April-July), there is frenzied activity in the marketplace with institutions – domestic and foreign – burning serious money in advertising to flaunt their course-ware and attract students from across the country.

The business potential is undoubtedly enormous. Almost 55% of India’s population is below 25 years–the ripe age to enroll for a post-graduate course. And do not underestimate the competition amongst institutions to get these students in. Government statistics show India has 348 universities and 17,625 colleges, the highest in the world.

And in the last couple of years, a large number of universities and colleges from not just the US and the UK, but also from Australia, Ireland, Canada, Russia, France, Germany and Singapore have been very active in India. No wonder, as many as 100,000 Indians go to study abroad every year. Over 300,000 Indian students are enrolled in courses abroad, with the US accounting for 76, 503, Australia 27, 661 and the UK 16, 227 in 2005-06, according to industry estimates.

To get a foothold in the higher education business, institutions spent as much as Rs 317.4 crore towards advertising in the print medium, says AdEx India, a division of TAM Media Research. The next year, they hiked their budgets over 15% to Rs 365.5 crore. This was next only to the booming realty business that shelled out Rs 370.5 crore.

In India, more than in most other countries providing education is very important for the middle class, the vast majority. Siddhartha Mukherjee, vice president, communications, TAM Media Research, says matter-of-factly, “Education is booming because parents feel their children need some kind of career specialisation.”

And complementing this desire of parents is the market opportunity for the private unaided colleges. Says Atul Chauhan, chancellor of the Rs 500-crore Amity University, Uttar Pradesh, “Education is among the biggest spenders in print in terms of advertising. They must be spending close to Rs 700 crore a year, mostly in print. And the prime time is April-July when students apply. Hardly any educational institution uses TV as it is used mainly for brand-building. Print advertisement is preferred since it can accommodate lot of information like courses are on offer and how to apply. Radio is very cluttered, though cheaper. Some institutions use it for event-related announcements though.”

According to a CII-ICRIER study “Towards excellence - Higher Education in India”, the household sector spent Rs 18,675 crore in higher education, more than half than the total Rs 37, 675 crore (0.4% of GDP) spent on education in 2006. Amongst institutions, private unaided colleges were more aggressive in advertising. The report noted that while government colleges numbering 4,225 were not growing, private colleges numbering 7,650 were “growing rapidly”.

Says Ramdas M Pai, president, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), “There has been a dramatic growth – in rupee-terms and in numbers – over the last 2-3 decades, in the higher education sector. The sector has been growing at over 15% in real terms –probably in line with or a little higher than the growth of the service sector as a whole.”

He attributes the healthy clip to the entry of private players. With depleting state investment in setting up new higher education institutions (a vast majority of budgetary allocation for higher education goes merely to the upkeep and salaries in existing institutions), the private sector has accounted for more than 90% of the growth, says Pai.

Last year, MAHE’s media spend was about Rs 5 crore, entirely on press and online media.

Government institutions too spend some money on advertisements, but mostly on professional courses. “The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT’s) annual ad spend in print media is about Rs 60-70 lakh,” says Pavan Kaushik, head, public relations. We utilize the ticker facility in the electronic media for 15-20 days during the admission process and spend about Rs3-4 lakh in this category, he adds.

Besides private unaided colleges, advertisers say, foreign education providers spend substantial money in the Indian media to bring students to their educational fairs and MBA tours. “In 2005-06, they spent about $ 1.6 million, up 20% compared with 2004-05,” an advertiser said. In 2006-07, the advertisement earnings from foreign education providers are projected to be over 35% higher at $2.1-2.2 million.

Many parents feel it is worth sending their wards abroad by spending a little more than admit them in a sub-standard school in India. An official from a smaller European embassy says, “A large number of Indians prefer spending Rs 10 lakh to study in a major university abroad rather than spend Rs 7 lakh-Rs 8 lakh in a sub-standard varsity here, especially if they do not get into one of the top league universities here.” Another allied area is the entrance examination and training market – or the coaching classes. Industry analysts say this market is as big as $200 million or Rs 812 crore. Even this segment largely reaches out to the masses through print advertisements.

Its not just India, where education means mega bucks. World-over, the sector’s revenues top $ 2,500 billion. According to I Watch, an India-centric website, if India were to pick up even 10% of this business, it will boost the country’s GDP by 40%. “It is achievable in the next 10-15 years,” says I Watch.

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