India is “poised and ready” to become the largest student market due to a fast-growing and aspirational middle class looking for opportunities overseas, according to industry experts.
Speaking during a PIE webinar that centred around the student recruitment landscape in India during and beyond Covid-19, Dylan Hoemsen, executive director South Asia for Grok Global Services, explained that several variables are affecting an Indian student’s decision on where to study abroad.
“The first is degree mobility – how is this program going to help them not only in the destination country but also how will that transfer back to India if they come back and enter the workforce?” he told attendees.
“Financial investment is also a huge consideration as while some are self-funded, the majority are looking for education loans.
“That plays into countries that are more open to part-time work during studies or postgraduation, which is definitely another driving factor.”
Hoemsen said that long term prospects are yet another consideration, as a lot of students want to study and then return to India.
Three other panellists, representing the UK, US and Canada, explained how each of the individual study destinations are ensuring they remain welcoming to Indian students – particularly in response to the ongoing pandemic.
India is second only to China in the number of students heading abroad for education. According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, 753,000 Indian students were studying abroad in 2019.
“In terms of the student market, India is poised and ready. She’s all set to be the largest student market,” explained Janaka Pushpanathan, director South India at British Council.
This spells good news for the UK, Pushpanathan continued, as the post-study work visa, graduate route and new PhD student extension are both working in its favour as a student destination.
She said a survey of 1,500 students from India and Pakistan India had revealed 39% of respondents had already applied to a university in the UK to study, another 22% were going to apply this year, and 43% of respondents said that they are “not at all likely to cancel their plans”.
“I think the message for the UK sector is the more flexible you are, the more agile and responsive to student sentiment and the needs of the parent audiences in India you are, I think that’s going to drive this year’s recruitment,” Pushpanathan continued.
According to Bhavvna Jolly, senior program officer at EducationUSA, Indian students are continuing to look for niche programs when they’re looking at higher education abroad, and that’s something that US universities continue to include in their offerings.
“[US] universities have been very responsive in terms of also the kind of programs that will contribute to the future of work, and also taking into account the current global crisis,” she explained.
Jolly pointed out that US universities are being very flexible, with around 92% of institutions surveyed by IIE saying they will have a new instruction approach in the fall 2020 semester.
“There’s also a change in the way they are approaching students and engaging with students… we’re seeing examples such as [US institutions] exploring local partnerships with Indian institutions in India where students can perhaps take a few classes now and then transfer on to the campuses.
“I think if we stay connected during this time and we take the opportunity and let students understand what kind of opportunities we’re offering to them, it will hold us in good stead as we move forward,” she added.
Canada, which has been seeing “phenomenal” growth in Indian student numbers in recent years, has also been positioning itself as a welcoming environment during the Covid-19 crisis said Anuj Bhasin, trade commissioner (Education) for the government of Canada in India.
“On the part of the government, Canada’s emergency response benefit has been up to CAD$2,000 a month for someone who has lost a job because of the crisis.
“Very rarely will [we] probably come across a country that would offer such kind of a benefit for non-citizens,” he said. “That message has been very well accepted by the student parents as well as the agent stakeholder community in India.”
Looking forward at the unpredictable recruitment cycle facing global institutions, Hoemsen at Grok said he would advise institution marketing departments to “engage with the admissions team, engage with deans and see where flexibility and deferred admissions can be built-in”.
“It’s really about being adaptable and not just ‘this is the way we’ve done it’ or ‘it has to be this way’,” he said.
“See if you can give some leeway because it’s one thing to go out and sell and promote, but if at the end of the day your counterparts are not able to administer those students and bring them into the institution, it will be a misguided effort.”
However, the Indian government is also introducing measures to ensure the country becomes an international student destination in its own right, with the new NEP 2020 aiming for the world’s top-rated universities to be facilitated to come to India among its measures.
“I think the National Education Policy throws a challenge to other countries because the Indian government is also looking to increase its gross enrolment ratio to 50% by 2035,” said Pushpanathan.
“And the government is also promoting a strong Stay in India & Study in India program.”
But, she added, “I think it’s good for all of us to also address that while we are thinking of flexible student intake, flexible policies, flexible hybrid models for college completion and things like that.
“It’s a nice challenge to have,” she said.