How To Attract International Students: A Comprehensive Guide



Indian Higher Education Market: A Quick Snapshot 

  • The Indian Education system is the world’s third-largest Higher Education System with more than 800 universities, 39,000 colleges and a capacity of enrolling more than a whopping 20 million students.
  • A burgeoning IT and Services sector has led to a robust placement oriented education as about 200 of the Fortune 500 companies hire regularly from Indian campuses.
  • Higher education in India has been a continuous provider of innovation, creativity and leadership support to the global industry. Some of the world’s leading companies are being headed by-products of Indian education system such as Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft, Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google Inc., Ajaypal Singh Banga, President and CEO, MasterCard, Rajeev Suri, CEO of Nokia, Indira Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co. to name a few.
  • Some of the leading world leaders and diplomats have also graduated from Indian colleges and universities such as Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Hamid Karzai, former president of Afghanistan, Bingu Wa Mutharika, former President of Malawi, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, King of Bhutan, Manouchehr Mottaki former Iranian Foreign Minister, John Samuel Malecela, former PM of Tanzania and many more.
  • Indian education systems have also produced distinguished noble laureates such as Rabindranath Tagore, CV Raman, Amartya Sen, Kailash Satyarthi, etc.
  • Budget 2019 focuses to attract foreign students to improve India’s position as a higher education destination.
Indian Higher Education: An Overview

As the above-mentioned facts speak for itself, Higher Education Institutions in India offers a very competitive education market to the world. Its quality has been among the best and is considered to be a value-for-money proposition.

The Indian Higher Education system is enormous in its scale. It offers a wide variety of courses for making informed career choices. The courses are well integrated with the latest advancements in subject areas. This variety and vastness of the Indian education system give a source of increased opportunities for its students in the global market.

The Department of Higher Education, MHRD, Government of India, is the nodal agency responsible for the overall development of the Education sector in the country, both in terms of the policy, planning as well as regulation and monitoring. Its constant focus is towards ensuring qualitative improvement in the primary and tertiary Education domain through the development of an enabling environment of growth and expansion.

The Growing Potential of Higher Education in India: Opportunities for International Students Recruitment

 International students while deciding to study abroad generally look for following important areas to decide their destination of study – learning opportunities, the relevance of the courses, cross-cultural experience, infrastructure, and enhanced employability along with a few others.

Over the years, India’s higher education system has been attracting a lot of foreign students, especially from developing countries. Besides, undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs, our universities and institutes have also been attracting many international research scholars for pursuing Ph.D. programs.

The global demand for cost-effective higher education courses in the next five to ten years will propel great opportunities for Indian higher education institutions for attracting international students. This will further help in expanding areas of potential collaboration with foreign institutions.

With the growing use of technology in teaching-learning processes, the Indian higher education system will see an unprecedented transformation in the coming decade. This transformation will be driven by economic and demographic changes.

With the present reforms in action, Indian higher education will reorganize and remodel itself over the next five years. Improvement in leadership and management, funding, quality, accountability, and enhanced relationships with the industry – all will push international student recruitment in an upward trajectory. Emphasis will be placed on teaching and research collaborations.

The private sector in the country is growing rapidly. It continues to provide all tertiary enrolments. Most of the foreign students are currently enrolled in professional courses in these institutions, particularly in engineering and management domains. The private sector is expected to play a significant role in the future expansion of international student admissions in higher education in India.

The Government is providing broad support to the sector for improving quality while ensuring accountability. The decentralization of authority in higher education has already begun.  This will result in bringing great reforms in the education environment across the country. Many positive implications for international admissions will also offshoot in the future as a result of these reforms.

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Understanding the Aspirations of International Students: How They See Higher Education Opportunities in India

International students are expecting Indian universities to offer a very different experience. Foreign students expect that the university experience would be likely to transition and place greater emphasis on the use of technology in course delivery. They also expect the higher education sector in India to provide a quality education that will make them future-ready for the jobs back in their native country.

How Indian Institutes can Attract International Students

Budget 2019 lays emphasis on attracting foreign students to improve India’s position as a higher education destination. ‘Study in India’ program initiated by the Government of India is intended to attract foreign students.

One key factor in education is class diversity. It is also now one of the key parameters in the ranking of higher education institutions. Geographical or regional diversity on campus is always valued for the holistic growth of students. In a globalized world, it is an important element to facilitate cross-cultural learning.

India’s overall capability in education is underexploited. This is the right time for Universities and colleges to take proactive measures for improving international representation in the class. Institutes should take active benefit from the government’s ‘Study in India’ program to attract foreign students for studying in Indian universities.

‘Study in India’ program is set to attract 200,000 foreign students which are more than four times the current number. The scheme is a joint effort by four ministries—human resource development, external affairs, home, and commerce. It marks a concerted effort to make Indian campuses diverse, in terms of the number of international students.

As part of the move, India will target students from countries in South, South-East and West Asia, Africa and Commonwealth of the Independent States that were part of the former Soviet Union. In order to make the plan attractive, institutions and government will offer fee waiver—partial or full to these foreign students. All admissions will happen via a single-window application system.

Challenges in International Student Recruitment

In contrast to a large number of Indian students studying abroad, Indian universities and colleges are currently enrolled in terms of international student recruitments.

The Government is keen on enhancing the attractiveness of India as a destination for international students. At the same time, there are challenges of infrastructure, lack of funding support and low ROI, etc. that is limiting its expansion in the overseas higher education market. Some universities and institutions are working to enhance their global reputation by improving rankings but still, a lot needs to be done.

Besides the above-mentioned challenge, India also faces increasing competition from several upcoming education destinations for attracting global talent. Countries like China, Malaysia, and Singapore, etc. are already making in-roads into the global education spectrum. Institutional capacities of our universities and colleges should be stepped-up to overcome these challenges. Opportunities need to be maximized.

There is an enormous unmet demand for higher education in developing countries. The low quality of teaching and learning systems in these countries is the main reason for students to look for career mobility beyond their country.

Quality assurance remains the key challenge that restricts the mobility of foreign students to India. There is an urgent need for systemic changes in our institutions to improve the quality of teaching and learning. The research environment does not have the required opportunities to produce interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research work.

International students could be the best brand ambassadors. Our country has a rich legacy in higher education. Its rapidly growing economy has all the elements to be one of the most sought-after destinations for higher education. At the same time, its complex education environment is full of diversity and variation in quality. This is limiting its growth to become a preferred international destination for students.

How to Step-Up Strategies to Attract International Students  

Here are some of the strategies that can help Indian institutions to attract more international students.

#1. Build a Brand Trust

Pursuing education from a different country is not an easy decision both in terms of cost as well as future career prospects. Building trust that ensures value for money is a crucial factor in attracting foreign students. Currently, most of the institutions in the country lack credible quality that can help create the trust factor.

Factors such as global ranking, campus diversity, state-of-the-art infrastructure, internationally acclaimed faculty, use of technology, future-ready curriculum, etc. are very critical from an international student’s perspective. Institutions must be able to articulate a brand image that establishes them as a preferred career destination.

#2. Information is the Key Differentiator

For obvious reasons, international students cannot come and visit the campus for making an informed decision. The touchpoints they therefor explore initially are online – website, social media, education portals, discussion forums, etc.

However, information available on the Internet must also be supported by offline interactions and local visits to these destinations. This will help create more trust and address their concerns with a human touch. In all these approaches, there is a need to provide trustworthy, unbiased and updated information to students.

#3. Understand your Target Group

Understanding international student segments is a crucial element of strategizing your international outreach plan. The international students market is very diverse and vast. Segmentation helps you understand the characteristics of your target audience and align marketing strategies accordingly.

For example, a student aiming for Stanford or MIT will be different from the one considering a low-cost study destination. A deeper understanding of the various segments of international students will result in better marketing outcomes.

#4. Building an Engaging Experience

Educational institutes should invest in creating engaging touchpoints for generating international students’ experience.

Most of the Indian institutions invest heavily in creating flashy media – websites, advertisements, etc.  without building on core competencies. They often overlook the role of creating a superior engagement experience for the end-user. Institutions must invest in developing credible international students’ experiences that can be successfully spread through word of mouth branding.

#5. Create Relevant Marketing Content

Before developing content for your international audience, identify your core USPs that can be aligned with prospective students’ needs.

Students across geographies generally look for the same set of vital information. Based on their segmentation, select the right content and the right format that students will connect strongly. Make sure to always keep exploring innovative methods like social media channels for reaching out to your target group.

#6. Shelve Some Dedicated Budget

You need to have a dedicated budget provision for your international students’ recruitment plan. Link your overall marketing goals with your international marketing plan. Highlight the critical impact of international student enrolment on your domestic market, brand awareness, and foreign collaborations.


International education is one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world. Globalization and advancement in technology have led to increased employment opportunities. This means that the world’s student population is more mobile than ever before. Overseas study programs have flooded the study abroad market.

The growth momentum of inward-bound students coming to India for higher education is likely to increase in the coming years.  No wonder, international student recruitment will be a key focus point for institutions in the future.  As the demand for international education grows, so will the needs of quality institutions for providing the same.

Change takes time and is inevitable. As a result of focussed efforts by the government, the higher education environment in the country will see major changes in the foreign representation of students. However, a lot of progress is still needed. Public-private partnerships can help in creating an ecosystem of change in this direction.  During the coming years, students from Asia, Africa, and adjoining countries are expected to pursue higher education degrees from India. So, let’s gear up for a revolution that has set on rolling.