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Why student recruitment in India is important and challenging

International student recruitment in India

Why it is important and challenging even for the best universities

In a few years from now, universities recruiting international students could well be saying, “Move over, China, advantage India.”

In an article in June 2016, University World News reported that the number of Indian students seeking admission to colleges abroad is growing at a faster rate than the overall number of overseas students applying to institutions in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Germany (with the exception of the UK).

Quoting the Indian Students Mobility Report 2016, prepared by MM Advisory Services, University World News said the number of Indian students going abroad was growing faster than the corresponding figure for China—17.8 percent in 2015 compared with 14 percent, though China still sent nearly double the number of students abroad—700,000 to India’s 3,60,000.

China seems to be maintaining a steady average growth of 10 percent annually, and it is India that is expected to provide more growth: 50 percent of the Indian population is below the age of 25, and there are only 400 universities in the country that can accommodate just 10 million students.

Most popular higher ed study destinations for Indian students

So where will ambitious students from high-income, English-knowing families go for higher education? Abroad, not only for education, but also for boosting their social capital (read “status from a foreign degree” for those who want to return).

Interestingly, not just the postgraduate pool, the undergraduate market in India is also growing, as trends from the US point out. Certainly, India is a hot destination for recruiting universities.

Although new destinations such as Australia and Canada are doing well in attracting international students to their campuses, and in giving some good competition to USA, they cannot afford to relax when it comes to recruiting from India.

After the U.S., Australia is now the second favourite following the tightening of visa rules in the UK, but education destinations such as China and Germany are finding some success in attracting Indian students.

Challenges for universities

The main challenge for international student recruiters keen on attracting Indian students is the preparation of an India-specific strategy. For example, according to the Indian Students Mobility Report 2016, recruiters have been making do with occasional forays into India in the form of official visits and fairs.

This is not even nearly sufficient as competition for Indian students is becoming intense. Universities may have to think of setting up offices in India or at least finding resourceful and dependable partners for establishing a permanent presence in the country, for recruitment and also for brand-building.

Only a university that has a presence in the country, or is well-known and respected, will kindle the interest of quality students, who are reducing their reliance on agents, many of whom look at volumes at the cost of quality.

Addressing the pain points

Obviously, universities that address students’ concerns and find solutions are more likely to be successful in recruiting quality students who will thrive in the US education system. In the post International student recruitment strategies we have discussed the four main challenges that prospective students face and what can be done to alleviate their problems.

The main challenges and solutions identified were as follows:

(1) High tuition: Offer scholarships, grants, aid, loans, and assistantships

(2) Cultural concerns: Promote interactive programs with alumni and immigrant communities

(3) Safety concerns: Get current students and college officials to speak to prospective students/applicants

(4) Career concerns: Provide information on career services and companies attending job fairs


Reaching out: Agents, fairs, ads, social media

Universities and colleges in many countries, including UK, Australia, and Canada, use reputed agents for student recruitment in India. Universities should keep in mind that many agents have their own network of subagents, and therefore they may face problems in maintaining direct control over quality. Before confirming the services of agents, a recruiter is well-advised to seek the counsel of country promotion bodies, trade commissioners involved with education, and independent companies.

Student recruitment fairs resemble a crowded marketplace, these days, a far cry from the time when only a few country promotion bodies and top universities attended them. Not just universities and colleges, but newspaper groups, student recruitment agencies, and destination promotion groups have jumped on the bandwagon, and the effectiveness of fairs is now in doubt (read this article: Are student fairs still useful or a waste of time?).

But universities and colleges that are still keen on fairs need to identify the right cities and manage resources efficiently, since fairs are an expensive way to reach out to prospects.

Even in these days of analytics and online advertisements, print media ads are surprisingly effective, particularly those displayed in local language newspapers and magazines in some regions in India, such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, and Gujarat.

This is helpful in another way, too: in India, the attitude towards education, course preferences, and affordability vary from region to region, and all these can be addressed through region-specific ads. However, print media ads are expensive, and choosing the newspaper/magazine with the largest and most focused reach in a particular region is important.

Most college students in India use smartphones and are active social media users. Almost all institutions have an online presence, but the task is to create informative websites and social media pages that are easy to use and updated frequently.

Student recruitment strategies are bound to fail if they don’t take into account the changing demographics. As new segments of the population become increasingly upwardly mobile, the prospective applicant’s profile also changes. Identifying new groups of prospects who are likely to want to go abroad for education should be an important part of recruitment plans.

Is the hosting university well-prepared?

Attracting international students is one thing, but a university that is keen on bringing them in should also review its preparedness to host foreign students. Does it have an environment in which foreign students will feel comfortable and can thrive?

One way to make them feel at home is to bridge the language and cultural gap through an English language course and interactions with the local community. Another is to develop alumni communities overseas, to tell prospective students that they are, and have always been, welcome.

And while they are at it, alumni don’t have to stick to topics related to academics or examination schedule. They should explore life outside the classroom for the prospects. They could try to allay future students’ worries about the city where the college or university is located.

The top issues to discuss are the weather (Are summers comfortably warm? Can we enjoy a pleasant fall?); food (Are there Indian eateries nearby? Indian groceries?), transport (How good is the local bus service? Are taxis expensive?), housing (How good is the university accommodation? How high are the rents outside the campus?), etc.

The bottom line? ROI

Indian students, traditionally, are sharply aware of the need to ensure return on investment (ROI). Most students feel that they can ensure a reasonable ROI only by staying on for a career. Even those who plan to return to their home country will be keen on acquiring work experience.

Universities, therefore, should strive to improve their job fairs by ensuring the participation of high-profile companies and highlight their placement opportunities. A lot may depend on the national government’s visa policy for foreign students, but the ball is still in the universities’ court.

How we help universities reach out to Indian students

Our CrystalConnect initiative helps universities trying to get better traction among the Indian and international student pool. We do this with digital content marketing for a select few partners. We get over 2.5 million visitors each year, predominantly from organic search. That translates into a highly targeted audience.

Read these content marketing reviews by the higher education community.

Send us an email and we’ll explore if working together will be beneficial to your team: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com