CAT 2021: Coaching hit by COVID-19, mixed response to online classes

CAT Exam 2021: IIM CAT preparation institutes were severely hit due to Covid-19. Their shift to online classes drew mixed reactions.


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With the advent of COVID-19, management prep institutes have changed their business models to online and hybrid programmes.With the advent of COVID-19, management prep institutes have changed their business models to online and hybrid programmes.

Sheena Sachdeva | November 25, 2021 | 12:53 PM IST

NEW DELHI: Keshav Parashar scored 95% percentile in the Common Admission Test (CAT) in 2020 but feels he could have done better if he had been able to attend coaching offline.

He had enrolled in a classroom-based CAT preparation course in December 2019 but within just a few months his classes moved online. In those first months of the pandemic, he and his peers did not receive the guidance they needed from the institute, he said.

In 2020, around two lakh candidates sat for the CAT, a test for admission in the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and other top Indian B-Schools. During the first and second waves of the pandemic, state governments imposed restrictions on the movement of people to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. Along with other education institutions, all coaching institutes had closed
as well. CAT 2021 is scheduled for November 28.

Parashar said that preparing for CAT online was a struggle due to the lack of support from teachers. Many students found the management coaching institutes less interactive online. In offline classes, they would inculcate competitiveness and encourage

On their part, management institutes found their business severely hit as well with some reporting revenue losses as high as 65%. Transitioning to survival mode, institutes shifted to online classes but students said the shift left gaps, especially when it came to answering their queries on the curriculum.

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CAT 2021, MBA, IIM, online classes, Career LauncherWith online education in order, coaching institutes are shifting to hybrid programmes with major challenge to attract new students. Image: Shutterstock

Offline to online

While existing learners felt uncertain about the shift to online classes, the primary challenge for coaching institutes was to draw new students. Covid had put a stop to walk-ins and face-to-face interactions at their centres. “Due to Covid, last year there were fewer walk-ins. A fear of the virus amongst students led to declining enrolments,” said Rakesh Rai, vice-president-marketing, Hitbullseye, a Chandigarh-based firm for online and offline test preparation. “Moreover, students now look for courses that add value to their overall knowledge, as now most of the courses are available readily online.”

Due to changes forced by the pandemic, coaching in the Covid-era is more about “what” will be on offer and “how”, added Rai. “In the pre-pandemic time, offline coaching had several aspects – the students had hand-holding of the counsellors, teachers and centre managers. But during online classes, all these features are lacking,” he explained.

The move from offline to online has also led to a decline in fees. According to industry analysts, overall the CAT preparation fees have declined by 25%. Nikhil Khatter, a former student of Career Launcher, another test-preparation firm, said: “In 2020, online fees were cheaper than offline.” However, most coaching classes, including IMS, Career Launcher and Hitbullseye, have a hybrid module.

“We had predicted that classrooms will be shifting online as schools were also shifting to online education due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. CL has been into online courses for the last five years,” said Raviteja Mahavadi of Career Launcher. “But the majority of our business is offline,” he added.

Similarly, IMS launched its online classes in January 2020 just as the Coronavirus showed up in India. “Despite this, our revenues declined by a huge number as students had no clarity on when the classes would resume,” says Vinayak Kudva, national chief mentor at IMS.

According to Kudva, the challenge was reaching out to students. “Initially, there were some challenges and there was acceptance of the fact that this is going to stay for some time. However, we prepared ourselves according to the environment,” he said. At present, IMS has a mix of online and offline programmes. “We do have blended programmes along with offline classes. But the majority of students are in online programmes,” added Kudva.

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CAT 2021, MBA, IIM, IIM-A, IIM-B, online educationRakesh Rai, Vice-President-Marketing, Hitbullseye

No peer-learning, interaction

Opinion differs on the effectiveness of online classes.

Chandan Ryan, another IMS student, said online classes help students save on travel time but offline mock tests and interviews are critical as they pull candidates out of their comfort zone. “Attending mock exams and interviews at the centre is very important because a student should have the experience of the environment,” he said. He would favour a hybrid model of teaching with offline mock tests and interviews.

Students like Parashar found that most teachers at the institute didn’t reply to messages or queries. “With the shift to online, the batch grew from 30 to 70-80 students and one-on-one interaction declined tremendously,” he said.

Coaching institutes should make the online classes more interactive through different strategies to ensure students and teachers have a connection, said another student from the 2020 batch at Career Launcher, asking not to be named. “Peer learning is also important in competitive examinations,” he said.

Nikhil Sahay, who was also enrolled at Career Launcher, held the opposite view. He prepared online – only the mock interview was held offline – and found it useful. Among the benefits of online classes was that it became possible to attend several classes at once and that online classes provide access to teachers from other cities and states.

Finally, candidates pointed out that CAT itself is an online exam. “Online classes are better because we are writing an online exam. Our skills to read and write online improved during online classes,” said Sahay.

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Initiatives for rebound

Institutes like IMS claim they have been able to recover their pre-Covid business. “In terms of revenue, we are doing as well as we were doing in 2019. This has happened as we have given advantage and flexibility to students to learn through both recorded videos and live classes. Furthermore, most of our class offerings were offline, and some components were online. However, now the proportion of online elements has increased in the competitive preparation programmes,” said Kudva….

Career Launcher witnessed a sizable decline in revenues and is taking steps to recover. “Despite a decline in numbers, we saw Covid as an opportunity to enhance our technology. We started an innovative model wherein we ensured students conversed with their teachers,” said Mahavadi. “We are trying to create a bridge between students and teachers. The recording of classes is something that students can finish at his/her stage. We launched ‘Do it yourself’ courses, and roughly 20-25% of students said that they want to do the DIY courses.” With a decline in Covid-19 cases across states, Career Launcher has opened offline classes at
certain institutes.

Last year, from April to August, Hitbullseye’s revenues dropped by 65% and this year from September to October by 30%. “However, due to online and hybrid courses, we have witnessed 350% growth overall since the last two years,” said Rai. “Further, recent enrollment in classes has been
quite low.”

CAT 2021, MBA, IIM, online educationVinayak Kudva, National Chief Mentor at IMS

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Way forward

Kudva believes that old-fashioned classrooms may not even exist anymore as blended classrooms will be more prevalent. Further, technology has expanded the reach of the coaching institutes manifold.

“Lack of resources would have been a problem a few years back. However, the online model has enabled seamless delivery of sessions along with reaching many more students, expanding our reach by 100%, in comparison with pre-pandemic times,” he said. IMS has used this opportunity to build technology into their programme and he said that elements of the curriculum that have moved online may continue to remain there in the future.

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Rai from Hitbullseye is observing the situation. “Offline courses for CAT preparation will take around two months to get back to their pre-Covid enrolments. If by Diwali, things remain normal, everything will bounce back to normal. Since last year, enrolments in September and October have been better,” said Rai. In the last two months, Hitbullseye has opened seven new centres across India offering hybrid coaching modules.

Kudva added that the trend of people leaving the metropolitan areas is reflected in the distribution of enrolments as well. However, purely online education is temporary. He said that curriculum delivery at the centres will change to include greater personalisation and focus on standard services. Students can now access quality sitting at home but there will be a market for both offline and online.

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