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Quality vs. Quantity Conundrum: Recruiting International Students in India

By Adrien Mutton

India, the second largest source market poses immense challenges to institutions wanting to recruit the best and brightest from this market. Numbers are never an issue, however if you are an institution wanting to be a quality recruiter, it will be a long and tough battle.

Unlike most other countries where students don’t link their education to a job as an end result, Indian students are extremely value and return on investment oriented. They are also migration focused and this is across the entire spectrum of student population leaving Indian shores. So if the students perceive that the destination is not offering a quantifiable end result in the form of potential salary they can earn, they will not consider the country while assessing their study abroad options.

With International offices coming under immense pressure to recruit more students from India, quality more often than not is the first one to be sacrificed. And in the long run this results in creating damage for the brand reputation. Institutions need to have a nuanced understanding of the heterogeneity of India, of the various state and central government boards of examinations alongside the standing of central, state and private universities. For example there are state board examinations where the marking of answer sheets is extremely stringent and on the other end of the spectrum you would have state boards that are very generous in awarding marks to students. The same goes for university examinations as well. So a 55% student from these contrasting boards would have to be judged very differently. These are some of the complexities that are brought on by the heterogeneity in the market in terms of systems, preferences, attitude towards expenditure on education etc.

With a gross enrolment ratio of approximately 12%, India has added 20,000 colleges in a decade with the number of degree granting universities doubling as well in the same period. There has been an explosion in the number of private universities. The number of private universities has grown from 10 in 2006 to 145 in 2012. There is a huge issue of quality here. Substandard private universities are common. A survey conducted by PurpleLeap, a joint venture between Pearson and Educomp Solutions, says only 12 per cent of the surveyed undergraduate engineering students were employment ready. While 52 per cent of the students were trainable, 36 per cent were untrainable. The survey was conducted among 34,000 final-year students with more than 60 per cent marks across 198 engineering colleges in 13 states. I have raised the issue of private universities and engineering college here as they churn out a large number of graduates with below par qualifications. This should bring home the huge number of students who are seeking higher education in India.

As recruiters, institutions make a choice about the kind of students they want to attract. Some institutions use channels like agency networks or decide to recruit directly from the market. The agency model obviously is not as applicable to American institutions, majority of whom are recipients of Indian students, without making an effort to be active seekers of students from here, however this pattern is also slowly changing owing to the economic pressures of running institutions which are these days operated like any business unit. If an institution uses agencies, there also needs to be active engagement with agents with the institution setting the agenda for the kind of students you want to attract and being accepting of the reality of training and retraining of agents on your product offering.