Manisha Zaveri is founder of Market Entry, a company specialising in helping institutions grow in India, South Asia and parts of the Middle East through in-country representatives and operations management. She spoke to The PIE about why she believes “boots on the ground” are the future of international student recruitment.
Manisha Zaveri: We have been in the business of international student recruitment for nearly two decades now, and have worked with hundreds of universities from the US, Canada as well as in Europe. This experience has given great insights into what works and what does not work in terms of marketing strategies, what brings in the leads, what gets you the enrolments and the yield, and how do you improve your brand recall and reputation.
Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen traditional strategies such as mailing campaigns, great landing pages for international students on college websites, international admission officials flying to India for fairs and high school visits, and colleges addressing study abroad agencies which directly engage with students. But now India has become such an overcrowded market with all universities applying these traditional methods. We realised that it’s no longer enough, nor effective to bring in the numbers and quality in international student recruitment.
“We set up Market Entry so that universities can have a much more progressive and a proactive approach in this region”
We set up Market Entry so that universities can have a much more progressive and a proactive approach in this region, by using marketers, student engagement experts, student coordinators on the ground in India in real time, zipping in and out of different cities – meeting students, engaging with parents, talking to counsellors and literally being your “boots on the ground” in India. That’s what we see as the future for international student recruitment.
The PIE: How does a university partner with Market Entry and how do you know where to put in-country representatives in India?
MZ: Our in country representatives are the easiest plug-in that institutions can have in their international marketing strategy – they do not have to invest in an office or hire a single person. Everything happens literally on the Market Entry platform – the university gets a dedicated team that works to achieve the objectives that they have set out.
Every university has a different goal on why they would want to have an in-country operation. Maybe they don’t have a brand presence and want to establish one. Some had a brand presence, but they slowed down their marketing activities and that presence diminished or disappeared, and they want to re-establish it using Market Entry. Some want diversity in student population. Others are interested in institutional partnerships, to set up twinning programs or student exchanges. Most commonly, universities want a bigger number of international students.
“In India, about 30% of potential applicants go to study-abroad consultants”
In India, about 30% of potential applicants go to study-abroad consultants. And then a large percentage of the students apply directly on their own, and many are guided by high school counsellors too. The representative must educate all those concerned in advising on what the university has to offer, the admissions standards and criteria, the mission. They should attend fairs and events where a lot of these direct leads come in. They also interact with high school counsellors. We have data on which schools contribute to the potential international student pool.
Depending on what the primary objective is, that’s how we decide where to start by addressing each objective of the client.
The PIE: Would you agree that India is looking to become the most important source market for students? And what type of universities are opting for in-country solutions to capitalise on India’s numbers?
MZ: Absolutely. If you just look at the numbers pre-Covid 2018-19, there’s data that suggests that about 793,000 Indian students were studying abroad. This number is increasing rapidly. If you compare it to China, India is not only the second largest student market, but it’s actually the fastest growing student market.
Look at America, for example, 18% of international students in the US are Indian. For international undergrad students, India is the number three contributor. The volume is huge and there’s a lot of potential for growth.
“The complexity of the market is that you’ve got all of these students spread over hundreds of cities of India”
But the complexity of the market is that you’ve got all of these students spread over hundreds of cities of India. It’s very diverse and spread out. Traditionally students belonged to used Tier One and metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, but now we have Tier Two and Three cities, which are increasingly becoming large contributors of international applications.
There is already a lot of action in the “in-country representatives” model by universities from Australia, Canada and UK. America is now waking up to the situation. Our existing clients are state and private universities, we have some clients with 5,000 students to some with 35,000+ students. Interestingly, each of our clients have a different goal and this has given our team a great exposure on how to successfully deliver varied objectives.
The PIE: How do you hire staff and ensure quality? And how often does the university have to be in touch with this staff?
MZ: We only hire people who’ve been engaged in student counselling and or have marketing experience with universities or studied abroad. They may even be a high school career guide.
The university does not need to be involved on a daily basis for reporting or monitoring. We have very defined reporting systems. Most colleges prefer to connect with their representatives every fortnight. And if everything’s going well, then once a month is fine by them and us too.
The PIE: Would you recommend having two staff in country to manage a country the size of India? And do you help them for other countries too?
MZ: If you’ve got applications and enrolments flowing in, you definitely need more than one person. You could divide the work geographically, or based on tasks and skills required. Somebody could be purely a marketer, driving in the applications, and then a student coordinator, for example, could be connecting with students on a day-to-day basis. When you have hundreds and thousands of applications coming in, you can’t expect one person to do all the running and all the talking.
For some clients, we also manage social media communications on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Telegram and WhatsApp. It’s non-stop and its massive – you definitely need more than one person to manage something like that.
When we station the person in India, they also look at Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Colleges are increasingly looking at Middle East and certain parts of North Africa, where we do have representatives attending.
The PIE: Has there been an obvious shift in subject or country preferences because of Covid-19?
“The Covid year has seen a really volatile situation happening where students were very quick to shift their country preferences”
MZ: There are certain traditional destinations which are always preferred – USA, UK, Canada, Australia. The factors that contribute to this include political policies, employment possibilities, post-study work opportunities, and whether there is an easy path to a return on investment. The Covid year has seen a really volatile situation happening where students were very quick to shift their country preferences. If you had lockdowns, or mismanaged the Covid situation, that’s when a very volatile shift happened. But I think if you have a good post-study work opportunities and a favourable immigration policy, the stable choices continue to remain stable.
We are seeing interest in European countries such as Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, France and Switzerland and Eastern Europe. Traditionally India has been a market where you have students going for management, medical science and engineering. Now it’s all of that plus computer science and IT, data science, AI and machine learning. For liberal arts, niche programs and humanities, there is a growing demand for non-traditional study destinations. There’s something for everyone in a market like South Asia!