The Hyderabad neighbourhood’s IT courses cost less than Rs.5000 for six months. University campuses can take a while to get going in the mornings, as students recover from extra-curricular antics. Contrast that with Ameerpet, a squeezed neighbourhood of Hyderabad that has become India’s unofficial cramming-college capital.
By 7.30am the place is already buzzing as 500-odd training institutes cater to over 100,000 students looking to improve their IT skills. If there are ivory towers here, they are obscured by a forest of fluorescent billboards promising skills ranging from debugging Oracle servers to expertise in Java coding to handling Microsoft’s cloud.
Expertise in the IT industry erodes fast as software programs are upgraded or become obsolete. Indian outsourcing giants such as Infosys and Wipro spend heavily to keep employees’ skills up to date. But staff looking to change their career paths—to say nothing of those who didn’t crack the interview in the first place—need rapid systems upgrades of their own. Training courses authorised by software providers exist but cost up to 375,000 rupees ($5,765). Fees at Ameerpet’s informal institutes are typically below 25,000 rupees for classes lasting three to six months.
The glitziest of Ameerpet’s establishments have some of the trappings of MBA programmes: they dish out business cards to students they call “trainee associates” and help them polish their CVs. But many courses that are in high demand from students from across the country are taught in primitive classrooms filled with plastic chairs. Costs are low in part because institutes use pirated software, avoiding expensive licences. Raids occur sometimes, and the servers have to be wiped clean. But help is at hand to reinstall the software quickly. It is what the attendees will soon be paid to do, after all, once they land a job.
The focus in Ameerpet is on teaching salary-boosting skills at warp speed. Many instructors are moonlighting from their own IT jobs. In the classroom they use projects that simulate real-world scenarios. Study material is repeatedly refreshed to reflect current job descriptions at leading IT firms across India, not an outdated curriculum. “In college you get a degree. You come to Ameerpet for education,” says Narasimham Peri, a researcher at Britain’s Bristol University.
Ameerpet succeeds because it fills the gap between Indian IT’s global reach and the poor education Indians receive outside a top tier of engineering colleges. According to a government report published last month, three-fifths of engineering graduates in India are unemployable. Over half of the country’s 3,300-odd engineering colleges are not up to standard.
Nasscom, a lobby group for the IT industry, estimates that only three out of every ten faculty members who teach are qualified. Prestigious government-run institutes are reluctant to allocate more seats for students and believe that quality comes through squeezing supply. “That’s terrible,” says Mohandas Pai, a former director at Infosys.
Even so, it is surprising that Ameerpet is as busy as it is. Routine IT-maintenance tasks of the sort done by its graduates, after all, can increasingly be assigned to machines. Hiring by the Indian IT sector is at a ten-year low and some firms are even shedding workers.
But Ameerpet will prevail, says Suresh Golla, who runs a popular coaching class there. He has started to stream lectures to woo foreign students, who are willing to pay far more than Indians. And there are still plenty of local aspirants keen to gatecrash careers that their formal educational qualifications suggest they do not deserve. #KhabarLive