Kota-based test preparation institutes are facing empty classrooms as students are reluctant to return to physical classes amidst COVID-19 concerns.
Manohar Arha, a 49-year-old coaching institute owner at Kota in Rajasthan, always felt that education was a recession-proof sector. But the coronavirus outbreak has proved him wrong, with all the 280 students in his institute going back home in May 2020.
Even as the coaching capital of India is ready to welcome back students, candidates and their parents are not willing to come back. The reason? Safety concerns and fear of not being able to return.
Known as the hub for engineering and medical entrance examination coaching, every year around 85,000 students come to this city for pursuing coaching for admissions into top institutes in India.
However, in 2020, the story was different. When India went into a nationwide lockdown in the wake of COVID-19, students were stranded. Classes were cancelled, no transport was available to go home and hostel owners continued to demand rent.
Finally, when there was a partial lifting of the lockdown from May 1 onwards, students started emptying the city in thousands in fear of missing out on the opportunity to go home at a later date.
The coaching industry in India is estimated to be worth Rs 5,500 crore, employing almost 3,000 teachers and allied administrative support staff.
ALLEN Career Institute, Bansal Classes, Career Point and Resonance are some of the large institutes in Kota.
With students going back home, these institutes have now started online classes. On an average, enrollments for e-learning sessions are down 20 percent for the coaching institutes.
Will students come back?
The biggest worry is now whether students would come back or not. Despite Kota’s COVID-19 situation under control, the safety concerns remain.
Prateek Agarwal, a Pune-based engineering aspirant, told Moneycontrol that he and his batchmates faced a harrowing time in Kota once coronavirus started spreading in India.
“We had already paid our fees which was not going to be refunded. On top of that, the hostel owner insisted that we pay the rent in advance. We don’t even know when the JEE entrance test would be held this year. It is too risky to go back,” he added.
The Kota-based coaching industry has, in its part, tried to convince parents and students that the classrooms will be sanitised twice a day.
The head of a mid-sized coaching institute with a wide presence in Kota and the rest of India noted that never has the city seen students rushing out in fear.
“Ever since this city became a coaching destination in the mid-1980s, students would never hesitate to come back. Though a few years ago there were mental health issues leading to students dying by suicide, we were able to motivate other students to continue with their academics. It is a different story this time,” he added.
On an average, the yearly fee ranges between Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh for these coaching programmes. Additional costs include hostel fees of Rs 2,000-4,000 per month and mess charges.
Rent worry for institutes
While physical enrollments have come to a halt and classes have moved online, coaching institutes are also facing concerns of delay in rent payments due to a hit in revenue.
The rent for a 1000-square feet commercial space in Kota ranges between Rs 20,000-30,000 per month depending on the area and furnishings. Institutes taking up larger spaces on multi-year leases get a discount.
But property owners are not giving any ‘moratoriums’ to the coaching institutes, pushing some of the smaller entities to the brink.
The head of finance at a Kota-based coaching centre that was set up only five years ago told Moneycontrol that the institute ‘barely’ has cash to pay salaries for the next three months.
“We have to pay Rs 85,000 of rent in advance by end of July 2020 and have requested the property owners to give us time till September. We are hoping that students would return by then,” he added.Till then, it is a painful wait for him and several other coaching centres. For now, institutes are looking to attract newer students online giving up to 50 discounts.