He’s not the only international student to have used his journey as inspiration for a business idea (Rupesh Singh’s story is also impressive, for example), but his story is nonetheless inspiring for those the many that follow in his footsteps.
In 2002, Basha swapped bustling Chennai for rural Wales as his family chose to invest in his education abroad. He was, he tells The PIE, gobsmacked upon arrival to realise he was studying nowhere near the capital, London.
“I came from India to study as an international student,” explains Basha. “Students go to an agency [for advice on how to apply] and I did the same.
“It was a beautiful university, a nice city, but in the middle of nowhere”
“I wanted to study in London, I wanted to live in London. That was very clear to me, but they [the agency] found me a place at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales.
“It was a beautiful university, a nice city, but in the middle of nowhere.”
This false start thanks to some poor advice helped shaped the course of his life and helped Basha build a successful business.
“When you are in the London mindset and then you arrive and realise it’s a five-hour drive away… I was really disappointed. They [the agency] even said to me ‘you can actually live in London and go to Wales every day’.”
This inaccurate information forced him to take matters into his own hands, researching and visiting universities in London before handling his own deposit refund at Aberystwyth and transfering to the University of Greenwich.
Knowing the sacrifice his family had made to finance his study, he was not prepared to compromise on his ambitions.
“I come from a very humble family in India. There was no computer [in my home] and I had to ask my father to remortgage his property to send me here [to the UK].
“I remember speaking to the international director [at Greenwich] and explaining that I needed to pay in instalments.
“I also said ‘if you give me a small scholarship, I will bring in 10 students’. I was only 21 at the time but I was making a deal with him.”
He recognised the entrepreneurial opportunity and it wasn’t long before fellow Indians, family members, friends and cousins were contacting him on Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft MSM for advice on how to apply to the UK.
“I was saying to them all ‘come to Greenwich’ and the university turned around and said ‘you know we’ll pay you for all the service you are giving?'”
After this early foray into the business of being an agent, after graduation Basha moved to Manchester for a full-time graduate job in engineering along with his wife who was a graduate of Queen Mary University.
“A counsellor is assigned to the student – in the same way a named Uber driver is assigned when you book a ride”
He only lasted a year however, as by 2008 he had left his job to focus on his fledgling business, the educational agency IEC Abroad.
That team now consists of over 50 staff in the UK and a further 25 offices around the world. In 2015, the company rebranded and became known as Edvoy.
Sadiq Basha’s journey with Edvoy may have begun in earnest in 2018, but its roots trace back to 2013 when discussions with Syed Shabir started.
Syed identified a technological gap in the student recruitment sector, which led to the incorporation of cutting-edge tech into Edvoy. His role as Enterprise Architect in leading MNC IT giants, and his previous experiences, including leading product development at Xerox, equipped him with skills crucial to Edvoy’s growth.
“Together, Syed’s technological expertise and our shared vision have been instrumental in shaping Edvoy’s success story.”
Basha’s early flatmates in the UK also helped him establish contacts in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia as the first overseas territories for the business, with the latter proving very lucrative.
He recalls the ‘hay days’ of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program creating a pipeline of fully sponsored students coming from Saudi Arabia to the UK, saying “all of us made a lot of money”.
In 2010, Basha set up a language school called New College Manchester with the aim of attracting learners from the Middle East.
He saw a gap in the market for English language courses that would appeal to the sensitivities of Middle Eastern learners, different from the junior language school tourism that was the norm in the sector.
“For university partners who don’t want to receive sub-agent applications the technology includes a ‘kill-switch”
New schools in Liverpool and Dublin quickly followed and these days the New College Group also runs language summer camps at University of Salford and University of Portsmouth.
In 2019, holiday company Thomas Cook went bust, something that Basha had predicted a few years earlier while observing how students booked their travel.
The increasing digitisation of the travel industry through platforms such as booking.com, airbnb and Uber was a clear signal that consumer behaviour was changing and online platforms were facilitating greater choice and reach for customers and businesses alike.
“That’s where the Edvoy concept came from,” Basha explained. “A counsellor is assigned to the student on the Edvoy app – in the same way a named Uber driver is assigned to you when you book a ride.”
Edvoy now employs a 70-person strong technical development team in his home city of Chennai, a region famed for software development in India and the childhood home of current Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
The digital direction and rebrand of the business happened at the time of the pandemic and was no easy task. “I had to rewire the whole mindset of how we’re going to do it – and it took a lot of time,” explained Basha.
The subsequent rise of edtech providers since the pandemic has proven him right, with the use of aggregators and digital marketplaces in international student recruitment becoming commonplace, albeit with some detractors. Some aggregator platforms have been dropped by universities.
“For the three years since we’ve gone digital the business has quite literally had 100% growth.”
IEC Abroad previously worked with approximately 150 sub-agents in connection to the brick and mortar offices. Through the Edvoy digital platform that number has now risen to 3,500 sub-agent affiliate partners who are termed ‘introducers’.
For university partners who don’t want to receive sub-agent applications the technology includes a ‘kill-switch’ function where no agents can see that university on the Edvoy platform, only direct, student applicants.
Basha knows only too well the need for clear quality control processes when handling applications on this scale.
“We interview all B2B students [who have applied through partner introducer agencies] from South Asia and in some cases we have failed students that the universities have accepted,” he relates.
“In these cases we say to the university it is your prerogative. It is your call [if you want to accept them].”
The Edvoy platform continues to grow and has now started representing Irish, Canadian and American universities, colleges and and language schools in addition to the original British partners.
“We are a proud British company,” states Basha, “but we’ve got to go outside of our beautiful little island”.