For a number of years, the USA has enjoyed its position as the top recruiter of students from India. Recently, potential Indian students have seen a barrage of headlines warning them against studying in the USA. How should institutions work towards creating a positive relationship with their Indian students and recruiters to survive this period of uncertainty?
India is a sensitive market and the most reactive to global and local situations. It is therefore, perhaps, the most advanced consumer of international study. Both the UK and Australia have fallen foul of the Indian market in recent years and should provide solid case studies for other countries currently recruiting Indian students in large numbers.
Partly understanding this picture comes from understanding the Indian ethos of sending their children overseas for study. An HSBC survey in 2015 found that Indian parents were globally the most likely to send their children overseas for PG studies. With this kind of commitment, it is easy to see why families are unwilling to risk the investment in the future of their child and future generations.
Prospective students and their parents were already feeling concerned following the recent travel ban, which although not targeting Indian nationals specifically, served to increase fears of racism towards particular groups within the US. The Indian press is also keenly scrutinising the possible impact upon Indian students of any changes to the H-1B visa programme. This was then further exacerbated by the shocking shooting of two Indian nationals in a Kansas bar. Three significant events in just one month.
Parents have been faced with headlines warning them not to send their children to America, with warnings coming from both the Indian national academic community in the States and the parents of the murdered Indian workers.
“The situation seems to be pretty bad after Trump took over as the US President. I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the US in the present circumstances.”
Hindustan Times, 28th February 2017
“Indians should realise that such arbitrary bans can be extended easily to any group of people, for example, Indian Muslims or even all brown skinned people,” Arvind, Johnson Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT.
Times of India, 5th February 2017
Australia faced a similar backlash from India following a spate of attacks on Indian students in 2009/10, and the UK is seeing an ongoing decline in Indian student numbers as a direct result of changes to visa and immigration policies. Australia saw just over 60% of its Indian student population disappear over the three years following the attacks. However, Australian politicians and educators moved quickly to rebuild trust and relationships, and are now seeing year-on-year growth in Indian students studying in the Higher Education sector.
So what can US institutions do to try and create calm while in the eye of the current storm?
1. Build trust
It is likely that negative press stories about the USA will continue to be printed while there is uncertainty surrounding potential future travel bans and changes to immigration policies. So, now is the time to ensure that you are communicating effectively with your Indian students, parents, partners, recruiters and influencers. It is important that the institution shows that it understands the concerns faced by both current and potential students. By looking after your students on campus effectively, you will be creating an ambassador class of students ready to recommend your institution to the next generation.
2. Build long term relationships
As the number of Indian students likely declines over the coming year, it would be easy to remove yourself from the market and move your resources elsewhere. However, it is important to remember that India is a leading exporter of students and those who continue to support the market will be the ones who see their recruitment bounce back the quickest. Use this time to consolidate your position and support your current students effectively, thereby demonstrating to enquirers and applicants that you are serious about supporting India, and Indian students.
Most countries who have enjoyed success in the Indian market have developed close relationships with networks of trusted agents. In India trusted agents can heavily influence recruitment and exert influence at a number of levels and so it is therefore imperative that institutions work closely in partnership with trusted recruiters.
Ensure that senior staff from your institution are visible and involved in working with your Indian community on campus. Visit the market and speak to students in schools and universities so that they can see you and your welcoming attitude. It can make the world of difference, but this cannot be a one-off, it should be part of a long term strategy for India.
3. Create clear positive messaging
It can be hard to combat the power of the stories in the press, but now is the time to create clear, strong positive messages about the benefit of studying at your institution, in your city, or in your State.
Combined voices have more power than individuals and so working collaboratively with institutions who have a geographical or ideological link will be beneficial. In London, universities pooled together resources to create messaging around safety, employability and the benefits of studying in the city. The group worked with employers and government agencies in India to re-enforce the positive messages of studying in London, and in doing so, achieving a far greater impact as a group than individual institutions could do.
Be clear about the positive aspects of studying at your institution. Work with your current Indian students to understand what is important to them and address any concerns they have. By listening, and working to allay fears of current students, you will be able to create targeted testimonials and future ambassadors. This will be important when communicating to your applicants and potential students, meaning that you understand who they are and are ready to welcome them to the USA.
It is likely that institutions will see a drop in Indian student numbers over the next year so it is important to ensure that academic staff and senior management are aware of this potential. However, it is also important to note the experience of Australia in regaining its market share, taking a long-term approach involving senior members of university staff.
Those institutions who work to support Indian students through this period of uncertainty, who maintain their links in India and who communicate effectively with applicants, parents and influencers will be rewarded in the long term.
About the author
Jenni Parsons has almost 20 years’ experience in both the private and public sector of internationalization of Higher Education, delivering significant increases in international student volumes at universities. During her career, she has led in the development of successful recruitment offices in India, Pakistan, and Nigeria. For more internationalization insights, find Jenni on Twitter @
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