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Byju’s-owned Great Learning under fire for 'mis-selling' IIT-Bombay course

The mis-selling complaints come at a time when the edtech decacorn is struggling to manage cash for its operations and is cutting costs aggressively as well as looking at various ways to raise funds

July 14, 2022 / 01:13 PM IST
Byju's had laid off over 2,500 employees across its group companies.

Byju's had laid off over 2,500 employees across its group companies.

Anirudh Singh (name changed), a 34-year old working professional, saw an advertisement for a  post graduate programme (PGP) from IIT-Bombay (IIT-B) popping up while he was surfing the internet for executive education programmes.

“I clicked on it, and it took me to Great Learning’s page. On the main page, everywhere, you would see Great Learning advertising it as a PGP from IIT -Bombay. They had an entry procedure, where we were asked to take a basic test and all and then our classes started,” said Singh.

“It was a six-month course, where we were charged around Rs 1,53,000 including GST and all that. But the certificate that we got after the course nowhere mentioned it as an IIT-B PGP course. It only said a ‘CEP’ (Continuing Education Program) course by IIT Bombay. I already had a different CEP certificate, why would I do it again? I wanted a PGP from IIT- Bombay and I didn’t get that,” Singh added.

Singh is not the only one. Over 130 learners are crying foul alleging that Great Learning misled them by selling ‘Continuing Education and Quality Improvement Programmes’ (CE&QIP) course of IIT-B as a PGP course. While IIT-B’s website describes the course as a part of the CE&QIP programme, Great Learning’s pamphlets showed it as PGP from IIT -Bombay.

A screenshot of what the IIT Bombay website shows A screenshot of what the IIT Bombay website shows

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Screenshot of what Great Learning's advertise shows Screenshot of what Great Learning's advertise shows

To be sure, Great Learning sent a sample of the certificate to users before accepting admissions, which mentioned the course as a CE&QIP course from IIT-B. However, the Byju’s-owned company also bombarded learners with pamphlets and digital advertisements, which incorrectly described the course as a PGP programme, learners said.

Moneycontrol spoke to at least seven learners who have raised the issue with Great Learning and have also filed complaints with the India Edtech Consortium (IEC), a body set up under the aegis of the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which counts most edtech companies, including Byju’s, as its members.

A source from IEC confirmed that the consortium received complaints from learners. Learners, meanwhile, are also looking to take legal action against Great Learning for mis-selling the course, if their complaints aren’t resolved.

A spokesperson for Great Learning said that the programme title was agreed between IIT-Bombay and Great Learning.

"All executive programs at IIT-Bombay are conducted by CEP, which is the executive education arm of IIT-Bombay and this is true for this program as well," the spokesperson said.

Learners said that the certificate they got on completion of the course has a QR (quick response) code on it, which directs the user to website verification of the certificate.

"IIT-B CEP has also provided a verification link to all learners to whom the certificate was issued clearly outlining the title of the program as PGP. This verification link clarifies the nature of the certificate to any employer, recruiter or other stakeholder," the spokesperson for Great Learning said.

Great Learning added a column on the website, describing the course as a ‘PGP’ course after learners issued complaints, learners said.

“But who is going to scan the QR code? A recruiter will only take a look at the hard copy of the certificate and we haven’t got that. This is not done. First, they mis-sold the course, second they aren’t issuing us a fresh certificate, which has ‘PGP’ mentioned,” a learner said.

“And to address our issues, they did nothing. They kept a virtual meeting but none of us were allowed to unmute ourselves. We just were listeners and the course co-ordinators (of Great Learning) were justifying how what they did was right,” the learner added.

Byju's acquired Great Learning in July 2021 for $600 million.

Byju’s, the world's most valued edtech unicorn, and its group companies have been under fire for alleged mis-selling of various courses. While some students and parents are taking their complaints to social media, some are taking legal action against the company.

Earlier this month, Byju’s had to settle a consumer court plaint filed by a parent, by giving a refund of Rs 99,000 and compensation of Rs 30,000, according to a media report.

The alleged mis-selling complaints come at a time when the edtech decacorn, valued at $22 billion, is struggling to manage cash for its operations and is thus resorting to cutting costs aggressively as well as looking at various ways to raise funds.

Byju’s announced raising $800-million in equity earlier this year, and a similar amount in September last year. However, the company is yet to get about $250 million of the over $1.5 billion it announced raising. The company, meanwhile, is reportedly in talks to raise over $1 billion in acquisition debt financing.

The Morning Context reported that Byju’s has been offloading significant chunks of its trade receivables through pass-through certificates, or PTCs, since 2019 and has sold as many as eight tranches of PTCs so far.

A pass-through certificate is given to an investor against certain mortgaged-backed securities that lie with the issuer. It can be compared to securities (like bonds and debentures) that may be issued by banks and other companies to investors.

On the cost-cutting part, Moneycontrol reported last month that more than 2,500 employees were sacked from group companies in a bid to cut costs. A few teams have been left with no members.

Byju’s has also not filed its FY21 (2020-21) audited financial results with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs yet, as auditor Deloitte raised various concerns with the company’s accounts.

Byju’s had said that the company would file FY21 results by end of June, but was not able to. Now, the company has set itself a deadline of July 15.

The challenges faced by India’s biggest education company are emblematic of the overall edtech sector, which has been struggling as the coronavirus pandemic has ebbed and students have returned to classrooms.

India’s edtech companies have had two successive exceptional years of hypergrowth but are finding it hard to sustain the momentum this year, with schools, colleges and physical tuition centres resuming work.
Nikhil Patwardhan
first published: Jul 14, 2022 01:11 pm
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