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New initiatives at NIIT to counter ''temporary'' slowdownnews
Usha Somayaji
20 July 2001

In a bid to contain the impact of the IT slowdown, software training and solutions behemoth NIIT is implementing a two-pronged strategy. The first revolves around widening the base of its flagship iGNIIT course in the smaller towns and cities. The second revolves around a new offering made to create a layer of aspiration scholarship with two new courses in advance IT technology - the .NET (dot Net) platform and the new age language, C # (pronounced C-Sharp).

The two new technologies are yet to see a full-fledged launch, with them currently undergoing extensive R&D at the Microsoft labs. But these are expected to hit the market towards the end of this quarter.

NIIT meanwhile, in association with Microsoft, is preparing to offer the course by end September. C#, which will be a major language with its USP of inter-operability, ability to convert and use codes without having to rewrite them, is expected to be in great demand.

The two new courses, NIIT believes, will help stem the slide in demand for its short term courses in specialised areas, also known as the retraining segment, where students go in to further their knowledge of specific subjects or add new ones to their skill sets. The demand for these courses has declined, thanks to the IT slowdown.

Simultaneously, the company is attempting to widen its base for its three-year iGNIIT course, by extending its loan programme to the smaller cities. NIIT had tied up with Citibank and World Bank arm IFC to earmark Rs 400 crore over a four year period, to be offered as loans to aspiring NIIT students opting for the iGNIIT courses. The loan amount would cover the cost of course fees, a personal computer, printer and internet connection, and would have to be repaid in seven years after the student obtains a placement.

NIIT undertook a pilot project in December 1999, and has disbursed Rs 25 crores up to May 2001. The facility was only available in the metro and mini-metro cities. Following the success of the programme, it now has begun taking it ahead in all the second rung towns and cites, including Nashik, Nagpur, Coimbatore, Chandigarh, Cochin, Ahmedabad, Vizag, Dehradun and Surat.

"Although bank loans are available for formal education, this is the first time that it has been made available by the private sector," says M. Vinod, head of educaion for the western region of NIIT. While the claim about being first does not hold, Aptech having introduced the concept of loan schemes in computer education a few years ago, in a tie up with the Bank of Baroda, and more recently (in May 2001) with HDFC Bank, the total size of the funds earmarked for NIIT students - Rs 400 crore - could indeed be a first.

These strategies will help NIIT weather the slowdown in the IT sector, which has impacted its retraining segment, comprising of short, advance technology courses, grouped under ''CATS'' (Curriculum for Advanced Technologies Studies) to the extent of 30 to 40 per cent, but has no impact on its ''Swift'' (short computer literacy courses), or ''Futurz'' , the longer duration e-commerce and internet technology courses leading to DNIIT and iGNIIT titles.

The company expects to reach a figure of 3,000 training outlets by the end of September this year, from the current 2228. About 50 of these could be overseas, where the number now stands at around 50.

For NIIT, the IT slowdown, as it claims in its official statement, is only "temporary".

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New initiatives at NIIT to counter ''temporary'' slowdown