The liberalization of India’s industrial policy in 1991 was the catalyst for a wave of investment in IT and infrastructure projects. Rapid economic growth followed, sparking a surge in demand for skilled and educated workers. This, combined with the public system’s failure to provide high-quality education and the growing willingness of the burgeoning middle class to spend money on schooling, has transformed India’s education sector into an attractive and fast-emerging opportunity for foreign investment.
Despite being fraught with regulatory restrictions, private investors are flocking to play a part in the “education revolution.” A recent report by CLSA (Asia-Pacific Markets) estimated that the private education market is worth around US$40 billion. The K-12 segment alone, which includes students from kindergarten to the age of 17, is thought to be worth more than US$20 billion. The market for private colleges (engineering, medical, business, etc.) is valued at US$7 billion, while tutoring accounts for a further US$5 billion.
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Other areas such as test preparation, pre-schooling, and vocational training are worth US$1-2 billion each. Textbooks and stationery, educational CD-ROMs, multimedia content, child skill enhancement, e-learning, teacher training, and finishing schools for the IT and the BPO sectors are some of the other significant sectors for foreign investment in education.
The Indian government allocated about US$8.6 billion to education for the current financial year. But considering the significant divide between the minority of students who graduate with good education and the vast majority who struggle to receive basic elementary schooling or are deprived of it altogether, private participation is seen as the only way of narrowing the gap. Indeed, it is estimated that the government’s scope for private participation is almost five times the amount spent on education.
CLSA estimates that the total size of India’s private education market could reach US$70 billion by 2012, with an 11% increase in the volume and penetration of education and training being offered.
The K-12 segment is the most attractive for private investors. Delhi Public School operates approximately 107 schools, DAV has around 667, Amity University runs several more, and Educomp Solutions plans to open 150 K-12 institutions over the next four years. Coaching and tutoring K-12 students outside of school is also big business, with around 40% of urban children in grades 9-12 using external tuition facilities.
Opening the doors
Private initiatives in the education sector started in the mid-90s with public-private partnerships to provide information and communications technology (ICT) in schools. Under this scheme, various state governments outsourced the supply, installation, and maintenance of IT hardware and software and teacher training and IT education in government or government-aided schools. The central government has been funding this initiative, which follows the build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) model, under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and ICT Schools programs. Private companies such as Educomp Solutions, Everonn Systems, and NIIT were among the first to enter the ICT market, which is expected to be worth around US$1 billion by 2012.
Recently, the central government invited private participation in over 1,000 industrial training institutes and offered academic and financial autonomy to private players. Companies such as Tata, Larsen & Toubro, Educomp, and Wipro have shown a keen interest in participating in this initiative.
Education in India is regulated at both central and state government levels. As a result, regulations often differ from state to state. K-12 education is governed by the respective State School Education Act and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Rules and Regulations concerning affiliation and/or any other affiliating body’s rules. Under current regulations, only not-for-profit trusts and societies registered under Societies Registration Act, 1860, and companies registered under section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, qualify to be affiliated with the CBSE and operate private schools.
While the K-12 segment accounts for the lion’s share of India’s educational market, weaving through the complex regulatory roadmap to qualify for affiliation poses serious difficulties for investors. The CBSE requires privately-funded schools to be non-proprietary entities without any vested control held by an individual or family members. A school seeking affiliation is expected to have a managing committee controlled by a trust, which should approve budgets, tuition fees, and annual charges. Any income accrued cannot be transferred to the trustor school management committee, and voluntary donations for gaining school admission are not permitted.
Schools and higher education institutions set up by the trust are entitled to exemptions from income tax, subject to compliance with section 11 of the Income Tax Act, 1961. To qualify for tax exemptions, the trust needs to ensure that its predominant activity is to serve the charitable purpose of promoting education instead of the pursuit of profit.
Alternative routes do exist for investors seeking to avoid the web of regulatory barriers that constrain their involvement. Sectors such as pre-schools, private coaching and tutoring, teacher training, the development and provision of multimedia content, educational software development, skill enhancement, IT training, and e-learning are prime sectors in which investors can allocate their funds. These areas are attractive because they are largely unregulated while they relate closely to the profitable K-12 segment. As such, they make attractive propositions for private investors interested in taking advantage of the burgeoning demand for quality education. Companies such as Educomp Solutions, Career Launcher, NIIT, Aptech, and Magic Software, are market leaders in these fields. Educomp recently acquired a large number of educational institutes and service providers across India. It has also formed joint ventures with leading higher education groups, including Raffles Education Singapore, to establish higher education institutions and universities in India and China. Furthermore, it has entered into a multi-million dollar collaboration with Ansal Properties and Infrastructure to set up educational institutions and schools across the country and closed a US$8.5 million deal to acquire Eurokids International, a private provider of pre-school educational services in India. Gaja Capital India, an education-centric fund, has completed three education services companies in India. NIIT and Aptech, meanwhile, are engaged in the IT training business.
Core Projects and Technology is also focusing heavily on India and is likely to bid to takeover, upgrade and run public schools for specified periods on a public-private partnership basis.
While state governments are largely responsible for providing K-12 education in India, the central government is accountable for major policy decisions relating to higher education. It provides grants to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and establishes central universities in the country. The UGC coordinates, determine, and maintains standards and the release of grants. Upon the UGC’s recommendation, the central government declares an educational institution’s status, which once authorized, is entitled to award degrees.
State governments are responsible for establishing state universities and colleges and have the power to approve the establishment of private universities through State Acts. All private universities are expected to conform to the UGC guidelines to ensure that certain minimum standards are maintained.