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Lakshmi Iyer, Sannam S4, India

Lakshmi Iyer is Head of Education at Sannam S4, part of a new breed of “market entry” specialists providing educators with tools and staff they need to develop an on-the-ground presence in India. She talks to The PIE about how the company is evolving and its move into the USA.

The PIE: Tell me more about Sannam S4..

"Institutions may want to engage more with the agency network or directly support students"

LI: Sannam S4 specialises in market entry and, amongst other things, we support a range of institutions via a platform that we offer called Launchpad. To date, 18 institutions have started pursuing objectives using this platform.

The beauty of the platform is that allows you to get off the ground pretty fast [in India] without having the need to form a legal entity to support your activities. Staff are on our payroll and staff are deployed in an advisory capacity to fully to support the institution on the ground.

The PIE: Who is using your services so far?

LI: Currently, we work with 11 British universities and one Irish, American and Australian institution. We have clients such as the University of Nottingham, University of Leeds, University of Exeter and so on, who think it is important to have a recruitment agenda on the ground. Some, such as the University of Ballarat in Australia, use us to run a due diligence project to ensure students they are trying to recruit from India are of really good quality.

The PIE: What gave you the idea to start up the operation?

LI: Sannam S4 was set up by Adrian Mutton, he is a serial entrepreneur. He wanted to set up a software firm in the country and he found it really tough to set up something in India and that gave him the idea. SannamS4 stands for the most widely cultivated red chilli brand in India. The name was chosen because Adrian is a big fan of chillies but the idea was we want to bring flavour to institutions in India but not to the extent that we overpower the entire recipe!

“Until now, American institutions have been reticent about Indian students but now they are looking to engage with India”

The PIE: How many staff do you have?
LI: We have operations in 5 cities: Delhi, Bangalore, Bombay, Chennai, Pune. In Delhi we have close to 50 people, and outside of that another 20-odd staff members.

The PIE: What do you do exactly for a university who wants a hold in the Indian market?

LI: Institutions may want to engage more with the agency network or directly support students. We offer them solutions, go out and recruit an individual and bring them on board on our payroll and educate them fully on the institution. They then drive the various recruitment objectives being set, on a day-to-day basis marketing the institution by liaising with agency network, representation at student fairs..

Gone are the days when there was just one British Council event –  there are a lot of people running fairs. It does not become financially viable for institutions to attend (from overseas) and we have at least 8-10 countries very aggressively trying to recruit students now.

The PIE: Are these staff accessible at an office?

LI: Staff are very accessible at our offices across India, in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. The majority of our customers work with agency networks and meet students and parents in their premises apart from obviously schools and colleges.

The PIE: How are agencies in India viewed?

LI: Agency recruitment used to be a panacea but a lot are now looking at engagement beyond the agency recruitment model. The pool of students who want to study abroad hasn’t grown as it has in China, for eg; so institutions are now looking at developing links with local institutions at their own level… looking at partnerships where students can spend 2 years in India and 2 years abroad, for example. Guidelines around these kind of arrangements [are evolving] but Universities Grants Commission UGC did state that such reciprocal relationships had to be with Times Higher top 500/Shanghai Jiao Tong 500.

Indians can be rankings-focused… staff also have to educate people about the merits of an institution if you are not in the Times Higher top 500. A change of mentality is happening about subject strength rather than overall ranking; this is happening but it is going to take a while.

The PIE: And what is your role? [more>>]

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