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Harjiv Singh, Founder of Salwan Media

The PIE News caught up with entrepreneur Harjiv Singh to chat education, India’s student mobility and his online study abroad magazine ‘BrainGain‘  targeting South Asian students.

The PIE: Tell me a little bit about the company, what is it that you do?

The typical premise growing up in India is engineering, MBA, maybe law and the sciences... today it’s a different world

HS: Well we started about four years ago. We run the largest online magazine for students in South Asia, it’s purely focused on students going abroad to study and the largest segment of that is students within India, followed by the rest of South Asia – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka. We get a lot of traffic from large source countries too – China, Indonesia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Our target audience is South Asia.

The magazine came out of my own experience of going abroad to study around 24 years ago – there really was no single source of information at that time for kids to find out what to study, visas, how do you choose, which country, so we cover the entire gamut.

I am who I am because I was an international student. It has given me a very different way of looking at the world.

The PIE: Is there anything particularly unique about the Indian or South Asian market?

HS: Being Indian and South Asian, parents have a big role to play so we address parental concerns. We interview parents and we get a lot feedback and questions like is it safe to send my daughter abroad?

The PIE: What’s the business model?

HS: I basically run two businesses, but the magazine is funded completely by me.  It does generate revenue from advertising and we get sponsorship for our annual conference in New Delhi, so there are multiple revenue streams involved.

We have 25 participating countries at the conference this year. The entire focus is what does it take to build a 21st century knowledge economy in South Asia. The neighbouring countries in South Asia often don’t talk to each other. India particularly because of its size skews the area and I think the onus is on us to drive creating knowledge – we have the youngest population with  54% of the people under the age of 25 – and if we do not enable them with education then we will be doing an injustice to humanity.

The PIE: What was your experience as an international student and how did that inspire your current endeavours?

A lot of people don’t look at the perception of parents because in the West no one tends to think about this. But, in India and South Asia it’s very important

HS: When I left India in 1990 I went out as a transfer student. One of the first things I recognised going from a university in Delhi to US universities was the teaching.

In India we were taught to learn by memory, in the US, I actually had to think about the stuff – write papers, really understand and come back with my own perception on these things. Initially it was hard because I had to go from memorising to thinking.

But it was a fascinating journey because it opened my mind to looking at other things differently. It’s not to say that one is better than the other but I think exposure of both gives people perspective. I am who I am because I was an international student. It has given me a very different way of looking at the world.

The PIE: How do you see the mobility trends in and out of South Asia at the moment?

HS: If you look at what is happening in the international student mobility space, there is a declining demographic growth in Western countries.  In the US there are not enough kids coming into the colleges from high school so they have to replace their current cost structure so they can continue to have as many students as they’ve had.

It’s going to be interesting to see where the students are going to come from and I believe a lot of them will come from India and South Asia, because India and South Asia do not have the capacity to take in as many students.

The PIE: What are Indian students looking for when they go abroad?

HS:  Today the big thing is value for money, because the Indian rupee has weakened.  Second – will they find employment and the immigration rules become very important here. Add to that the perception of parents – what they read in newspapers doesn’t always gel with the reality of what is happening in each of those countries. A lot of people don’t look at this [perception of parents] because in the West no one tends to think about this. But, in India and South Asia it’s very important because parents are for the most part funding the education. Very few kids are funding it themselves.

The PIE: What is the biggest concern among your readers?

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