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Trends for Indian students studying abroad

Feb 4, 2019 | EdTech

International education in India is growing yearly as more institutions and countries are diversifying and increasing their international student population.

The benefits of such a strategic shift are both academically (introducing a global experience at home to domestic students) and fiscally. Schools that embrace a more global outlook stand to reap substantial benefits as demand for education is increasing with demographic changes. Every year, the globally mobile student population increases by around 8%. By 2025, the number of international students will total more than 8 million worldwide.

Trends in international higher education in India

Destination countries are changing – besides traditional favorites like the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Australia (these five nations host more than 50% of global international students), other countries are playing an increasing role. In particular, Canada and New Zealand have set themselves ambitious growth goals. Additionally, national strategies for attracting international students have become seminal in former Eastern Europe, Israel, and Asia.

There are changes in sending countries – besides traditional countries of origin like China and India, new countries are rising with young populations and increased demand for higher education. Most notable among new regions is sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Nigeria and Ghana. This is driven by population change as the sub-Saharan population is predicted to more than double by 2050 to 2.4 billion people. In South America, Brazil features prominently, but there is also growth expected in Colombia. Asia, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, and Indonesia are rising markets.

All this diversification is leading to increased competition. More and more universities offer courses for international students and compete for global talent. Working opportunities, visa issues, and the potential for immigration are all topics under discussion, and red tape is being slashed worldwide to attract more prospective applicants.

With this kind of competition, marketing is becoming ever more critical. How can your university or country stand apart from others, and how can you showcase what makes you unique? Which are the channels you should put your resources into when you seek to attract students? Should you invest more in education fairs and local visibility or work to get in touch with the best agents? Should you build alumni networks and work to get referrals or invest in considerable online marketing? These answers would make allocating budgets and reaching our recruitment goals easier.

Luckily, we here at DreamApply have answers for you. DreamApply is a global application management system used by more than 200 universities worldwide. The universities have processed over half a million student applications through our system. Using non-personalized data, we can accurately analyze many applications and find generic student profiles and their activities. By comparing student profiles over the years, we can pinpoint significant changes in how students consume information and identify major information channels in different countries.

Using this data, we have prepared a series of market research articles regarding some of the biggest sending countries. To start, we will look at the biggest one, India. Check back again for more articles!

Marketing channels for international students from India

With the second-largest national population, India’s demand for higher education seems endless. According to UNESCO data, by August 2017, over 3 000 000 Indian students were studying abroad. Many universities are active in the Indian market, investing in campaigns, fairs, agents, etc., to get students to enroll.

However, we have noticed that most universities engage in marketing activities without sufficient market research or knowledge of the market and profile of Indian students. As a vast country in size and population, it is generally accepted that a sizable investment is needed to see returns in India. However, with good knowledge of the market and some segmenting, it would be possible to pinpoint the exact target group you are interested in and efficiently run marketing campaigns.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that you want to double Indian enrolments in your university. You build a marketing plan consisting of participation in student fairs and Facebook campaigns and throw some advertisement banners in the New Delhi metro. A year and thousands of dollars later, you find out, surprisingly, that your enrolment rate has barely changed. What did you do wrong?

Before making your marketing plan, it would’ve helped to know the following:

  • The channels which are effective in the Indian market (to avoid wasted expenditure).
  • The region’s participation at specific fairs (from which cities/states Indian students are coming).
  • The correct demographics for targeting with social media campaigns (average age and region correlation).
  • To pinpoint your marketing to precision, it would help to know whether Indian students generally would be interested in undergraduate or postgraduate levels of study and tailor your message accordingly.

This information is vital in creating smaller targeted segments with specially designed marketing. For example, you could target female Indian students from Punjab state with specific messages, offers, and incentives so they would apply for postgraduate courses in your university. This approach generally works better than the scattered approach, trying to target everything and nothing.

The general profile of international students from India

To determine the general profile of an international student from India, we’ll look at fundamental factors, such as gender, age, acceptance rate, and other criteria. To ensure the most relevant information, we’ll include only submitted applications from 2016-2018. Within these criteria, we have a population of 22 084 students who completed their applications for a DreamApply partner school.

To better quantify and qualify the data, we’ll break it down by state. More than a third of applications come from the state of Gujarat (35.4%), followed by Kerala (13.5%) and Punjab (12.4%). Other states have far fewer applications – Maharashtra (8%), Telangana (6.8%), Delhi and the city of New Delhi (5.7%), and Tamil Nadu (5%), with the rest of the states having 3% of applications or less.

International students from India by state

The lion’s share of students from India are men – out of all submitted Indian applications in the DreamApply platform, 14.6% are females, and 85.4% are men. However, it is interesting that the ratio of female Indian students applying to study abroad is increasing: in 2016, it was 12%. In 2017, 16%, and in 2018, it rose to 19%.
Out of 22 084 students who applied, 8388 received a notice of admission, a 38% conversion rate for Indian students. There is no difference in conversion rate between genders.
50% of all students who have applied did so at the undergraduate levels, 42% for postgraduate, and 7% for doctoral-level programs, with 1% mixed (language courses, preparatory courses, etc.).

Half (50.3%) of international students from India are between 21 and 25 years, with ages 17-20 comprising 17.8% and ages 26-30 23.1%.

Information channels

Most universities using DreamApply have made it mandatory for applicants to choose their main information channels from where they get information about studying abroad. By combining information channels across all students who have applied, we can determine general trends and measure changes. We were interested if this data could give us answers on top information channels for Indian students.

We analyzed a sample of 13 125 student applications between 2016 and 2018 and divided them into main categories:

Information source Description
Advertisement Advertisements on billboards, newspapers, web banners, marketing handouts, etc
Agent Agents, personal counselors, etc
Fair Education fairs
National portal Centralized marketing portals aimed at marketing the country as a whole
Online General organic searches, Google, Bing, etc
Other Any other channel not listed elsewhere, such as
country visits etc
Portal Designated education portals such as StudyPortal,
Masterstudies etc
Ranking Ranking sites and -lists
Recommendations Recommendations by friends, family, alumni, etc
School visits Locally held info sessions, visits to recruitment
staff in the applicant’s school etc
Social media Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc
Website University websites

By far, the main channel in India is agents, with 44% of all students using them to apply to international universities. The 2nd main channel is online channels. (Interestingly, the combined online channels of organic search, education portals, social media, and school websites accounted for 37%). All other channels, such as fairs, lag far behind. In more detail, having a clear and engaging school website (12% of all applicants have mentioned a school’s website as their primary information channel) and the importance of SEO (14% of students utilized online search engines to look for their new learning opportunities) paid dividends for universities.

But another question that is important is the trends – what are the trends and changes in information channels? We compared information channels of students from India using the latest data between 2015 and 2018:

We can see that importance of agents has dropped a bit since 2016 while specialized online portals have been rising. The importance of a communicative and user-friendly school website has also been climbing since 2015, while all other channels have been the same.

Here are the six main takeaways from this article:

  • Do your research. Gather as much data as possible and analyze it yourself or contact us and we’ll help you. By selecting channels that work and target groups (market segmentation is vital for large countries) that you are interested in, we will build a winning strategy for you.
  • Invest in good agents. Almost half of the Indian students still rely on agents to find their new university. If you forego their services, you are giving up on a huge chunk of the market.
  • Invest in online marketing, especially in SEO (to make your university easy to find) and website design (to keep the interest of said students who have found you via online channels). Investing into visibility in online portals should not be dismissed as this channel also shows signs of growth potential.
  • Temper your expectations from fairs. In lieu of the above data, it would be prudent to analyze your numbers from fairs (if you are or have attended them) and reconsider before attending (if you have yet to do so). We do not doubt that they are a powerful tool for some universities (and they are essential for building long-term brand awareness) but based on our stats and purely from a recruitment viewpoint, the cost-benefit is against them.
  • Measure the results of all your marketing activities. Each University and country is unique and different messages work for different segments. If you run an online campaign, measure the results as closely as possible. Page views and clicks are nice, but checking out tools that allow you to measure total enrolments might be worthwhile. A simple PDCE circle (Plan-Do-Check-Adjust) works wonders in higher education marketing.
  • Look at the bigger picture. To receive the best students from India and elsewhere, in addition to investing in the correct marketing channels, you also need to work on conversion. On average, in our data, the conversion rate for India is 38%. This means that, on average, you should be able to convert one student out of every 2.5 applications. However, many more leads never got to the application stage for every finished and submitted application. Employ a good lead management platform and strategy to increase your number of applications. Work on your conversion process to find the best student faster and convert them into enrolments before your competitors.

Lastly, you don’t have to pursue this marketing strategy alone. Here at DreamApply, we have over a decade of experience, knowledge, and data that we can apply to improve your international student numbers.

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