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India: non-recruitment based engagement “key”

A shift towards non-recruitment based engagement with Indian schools could be key to better managing student expectations, stakeholders have suggested.

Engagement with students should begin as early as upper primary school years, one stakeholder suggested. Photo: Unsplash

One benefit of schools and universities working closely is creating a best fit for students

“If you get your reputation right and you get your relationships in market right, you don’t have to make an extra effort to recruit,” Kala Anand, vice president global of upGrad Connect, told The PIE.

Those who have done it well – particularly schools in the US – have created engagement through faculty, immersion trips, experiential learning opportunities, curriculum engagement and alumni, The PIE learned.

“They’ve created a great brand name, they have created relationships by going to schools directly, taking the non-agent approach year after year,” said Anand.

“As a model, what upGrad Connect is trying to establish is to go directly to the source of where the student is. Don’t expect the student to come to you.”

upGrad Connect works directly with schools and colleges, supporting university guidance counsellors and international relations officers, “empowering them with the right information” on each aspect of the international education journey.

With a global network of institutions, service partners and affiliations, it aims to deliver a tech-driven human assisted experience for learners seeking study and success through an international education.

“We are in a day and age where groceries get delivered at my doorstep in under ten minutes. We are in the e-commerce boom as far as India is concerned,” Anand posited.

“When every service comes to you, the best place an education institution can get to a student is at another education institution. Go where the student is within the ecosystem of a school and engage there.”

One benefit of schools and universities working closely is creating a best fit for students – matching students with universities and destinations that are seen as a natural progression – allowing them to succeed, explained Anand.

She also highlighted that through upGrad Connect’s direct links with schools and colleges, there is the instant verification of the student and their academic credentials.

Dhruv Krishnaraj, director and co-founder of Student Circus, is one stakeholder calling for a more “holistic” approach to student recruitment. Within the current agent model, which Krishnaraj described as “transactional”, expectation is a big problem.

“People have mis-sold education as immigration and employment,” said Krishnaraj, a factor he said has led to countries such as Australia, the UK and most recently Canada, tightening immigration rules.

A long-term approach consisting of alternative engagement activities would make a “big difference” in terms of student expectation, he said.

Krishnaraj, speaking from experience, came to the UK as a student from India – and now heads up the employability platform aimed at international students.

A new approach, consisting of various touch points throughout a student’s school career, could be more sustainable for universities, working out cheaper than paying agents five to 10% of student fees, Krishnaraj suggested.

“People have mis-sold education as immigration and employment”

It is not the first time stakeholders have called for a shake-up to the way institutions – particularly those in the UK – should engage with India.

In November 2023, founding VC at OP Jindal Global University, C. Raj Kumar, challenged university representatives to rethink their engagement with the South Asian country, suggesting immersion trips and internships. He warned that the UK risks losing out to competitor countries such as Australia, as well as South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, all looking to recalibrate their higher education partnership with India.

But commentators such as Neesha Bhakar, CEO of Education at Vishwa Samudra Holdings, suggested engagement with students should begin in upper primary school years – as early as when students are 12 years old.

“That comfort is very important for Indian families because we are very people centric,” she said.

Meanwhile, Anand is also calling for universities to have a better understanding what diversification means for the India market – particularly within the types of programs attracting young Indians.

“What is geographical diversity? What is program diversity? Universities are coming again and again with business programs and engineering programs because they think that sells in India.”

Universities should take note of the niche programs emerging in popularity, with growing interest in fashion marketing, games development, animation and VFX among young Indians, added Anand.

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One Response to India: non-recruitment based engagement “key”

  1. I agree. Developing relationships with schools and interacting with students where they are is critical. It’s also important to start them early and get their parents engaged in the process as well.

    Gen Next has been doing this for 12+ years and have seen it work first-hand.

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