Acumen Global Gateway Summit Sessions: India – The keystone of a university’s international strategy

With Moderator – Marnie Watson – Chief Commercial Officer Acumen and Group Board Member Sannam S4 Group 


  • Len Jessup, President, Claremont Graduate University, USA 
  • Roger Brindley, Vice Provost, Penn State Global at Penn State University
  • Lee Wildman, Director of Global Engagement, Queen Mary University of London
  • Erik Lithander, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Strategic Engagement, University of Auckland
  • Ambassador. Haike Manning, Acumen. Executive Director, South East Asia
  • Ms. Vinitha Gengatharan, Assistant Vice President, Global Engagement and Partnerships, York University.

Welcome to an insightful and engaging panel discussion centred around a topic of paramount importance in today’s ever-evolving global education landscape. We have gathered some of the brightest minds in the field to explore and unravel the intricate web of opportunities that India offers as the keystone of universities’ international strategies.

As we embark on this journey of discovery, our esteemed moderator, Marnie Watson, Chief Commercial Officer at Acumen and Group Board Member at Sannam S4 Group will guide us through an enriching dialogue. Marnie’s extensive experience and insightful perspectives will undoubtedly enhance our understanding of the pivotal role India plays in shaping global higher education strategies.

Throughout our discussion, we aim to uncover how India’s rich culture, diverse academic offerings, and burgeoning student population have positioned it as a cornerstone in the global higher education arena. From forging strategic partnerships to navigating regulatory landscapes, we will delve into the strategies that universities are employing to harness India’s potential.

Five Key Takeaways

  1. India’s Educational Landscape Is a Global Magnet: India’s education system has become a magnet for international students, driven by its rich cultural heritage and diverse academic offerings. As a key takeaway, it’s clear that universities worldwide are recognising the immense potential in attracting Indian students for both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
  2. Strategic Partnerships Are Pivotal: Collaboration between Indian institutions and universities abroad is essential for success. Panellists highlighted the significance of establishing strategic partnerships, joint research initiatives, and faculty exchanges. These partnerships not only enhance the quality of education but also foster global citizenship among students.
  3. Navigating Regulatory Complexities Requires Expertise: India’s regulatory landscape can be intricate and challenging for foreign universities. A key insight from the discussion is the need for universities to invest in navigating these complexities wisely. This may involve seeking local expertise, complying with local regulations, and fostering relationships with Indian authorities to ensure smooth operations.
  4. Cultural Competency Drives Success: Understanding and respecting India’s diverse cultures and traditions are paramount. Panellists emphasised that universities must adapt their strategies to cater to the unique needs and preferences of Indian students. Cultural competency, including offering support for international students’ adjustment, plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining Indian talent.
  5. India as a Hub for Research and Innovation: India’s potential as a hub for research and innovation is gaining recognition. Universities worldwide are increasingly turning to India for collaborative research projects and tapping into the country’s immense talent pool. The panel discussion emphasised that India’s role in global research and innovation is set to expand further, benefiting both academia and industry.

Below is the transcript

Marnie Watson

I am delighted to be joined by a, may I call you a formidable panel.

I’m absolutely delighted to be joined, first of all on my left, by Lynn Jessup, who is the president of Claremont Graduate University from the USA, Dr. Roger Brinley, who’s the vice president Provost of Penn State Global at Penn State University in the USA, Lee Wildman who’s the Director of Global Engagement at Queen Mary University of London, Dr. Eric Lee founder, who’s the Deputy Vice-Chancellor strategic engagement at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and Haike Manning, my colleague, who’s the Executive Director, South East Asia for Acumen, and also the former New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam, and also has previously worked in the High Commission in India, who brings some very valuable insights. Thank you all, again for joining me. 

So we’ve heard the statistics, and we know the numbers, a quick reminder, India, the fifth largest economy of the world and growing largest population on the planet, is home to 25% of the world’s population under 25 years of age, half a billion people under 23. A target from the Modi government of have half of young people in vocational and higher education by 2035. Impressive.

So I’d like to ask each of the panel, and Haike, I might have a different question for you in a moment, but each of the panel of university colleagues to share with us why India has become your number one priority. And if so, why? Or if not, why not? 

Len Jessup, President, Claremont Graduate University, USA 

Thanks, Marnie, we better leave you with that microphone in case we get out of control that you might need to wrestle it back from us.

Thank you, and thanks to Acumen for having me here.

It is definitely a key part and I would even go so far as to say the central part of our international student recruitment strategy. Interesting to us also, just from the pure point of view of partnership, as well and it’s not just the statistics that you just described, although that’s a big part of it. It’s a big attractor for any of us trying to grow enrollments. But also, it’s sort of what you don’t see inside the numbers and it’s the energy here. 

I grew up in the United States in California, and went through all the different iterations that California has gone through, many exciting, especially in the Bay area where I was around Silicon Valley. When you’re over here to visit, you can feel an energy here, that sort of to me, reminded me of what it felt like being in Silicon Valley in the early days, there’s an excitement from an economic development and social change point of view happening here that I find very attractive, and that I know that our students and faculty do as well. So it’s a key part not just because of the massive numbers in the interest that you know, provides us in terms of bolstering our enrollments with different programmes and exchanges and that kind of thing, but also just being a part of the of the of the action that’s happening here as well.

Roger Brindley, Vice Provost, Penn State Global at Penn State University

It’s going to sound like we’re just playing with the audience. But India is the key part of our strategy at a very high micro-macro level. The geopolitical disruption of the US-China relationship at this time, plays into that India and South Asia more generally, have been key in sort of rebalancing our international student numbers, which for many US institutions, were China-heavy before. So in terms of the inbound, India has been very important to us for recruitment, outbound going out into the world, again, it sounds glib, but it should be recognised. 

You have the largest democracy in the world by far, and a democracy that has shaped much of the thinking of the free world over the last couple of generations, and they need to work together. And you see that in initiatives that are ongoing now around the ICET and the Chips Act in the United States, semiconductors, AI, cyber and all the critical disruptions that we heard about earlier this afternoon. So for us, India plays a central role in how we think about distributing our resources, certainly, certainly in Asia. But alongside our efforts in Africa and South America.

Lee Wildman, Director of Global Engagement, Queen Mary University of London

Thank you for the invitation to Acumen to speak today and attend the conference, which has been excellent so far. 

So from Queen Mary’s perspective, India is a big part of what we’re what we’re doing. It’s a big part of our 2030 strategy, it has now grown to be our largest source country of international students, for the first time, toppling China, this current academic year, and it’s a country that has grown significantly over the past 11 years, since we invested in India when a number of UK universities were withdrawing investment in India, around the withdrawal of the post-study work visa, in 2011/ 12, Queen Mary took the decision to actually partner with Sannam S4 at the time and set up an in-country representative office and that has, born fruit for us over that period our numbers have grown tenfold over that period, and particularly in the last two or three years, they’ve tripled. So it is a huge, huge market for us now.

But we’re looking at how we can sort of take the next step and move into more sustainable partnerships with Indian institutions, I think, Amrita from the University of Edinburgh, mentioned towards the end of the last session about research partnerships being the sort of new frontier and that’s the way we see it as well. We’re getting more than enough students for the most part through our direct recruitment channels. So we’re not necessarily looking for partnerships in India to grow our taught programme students, but what we are looking to do is develop those sustainable research partnerships, which might see a flow of researchers between institutions and particularly grow our PhD student body.

Erik Lithander, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Strategic Engagement, University of Auckland
I don’t think that anyone could have sat through the session so far today and not concluded that India should be at the centre of your international strategy.

India is arguably not only the most exciting, but also the most significant higher education system in the world today. And like Roger, I’m not saying that to flatter the audience. It’s a serious observation, and India’s ascent, to be an education and research superpower is coming at exactly the time when the world needs it the most.

Because business as usual, simply won’t do it If we’re going to tackle the big challenges that together our societies, and the planet are facing. We need to hurry up. And I don’t think that anyone is showing us more acutely how you hurry up than India is, with the sheer scale of its development of its education and research landscape. It’s transformative. And I think that’s an easy conclusion to draw. If you look at things like the ambition, which was articulated very clearly in all the sessions this morning from the NEP onwards, the scaling capability, just a breathtaking development of India’s higher education and research landscape. In recent years. The size and quality of the student population just for reference, India has more postgraduate students than New Zealand has people and the international networks that India has which is evidenced on a meaningful scale by what we’re seeing today. 

So I think from our perspective, what we want to do is to move away from a series of transactional relationships with India which is student recruitment, student mobility, research collaboration, and instead ask ourselves how partnership will allow us to turbo boost the benefits which those activities have for our communities in a mutual way. And hopefully, events like today’s will help us to accelerate that process. And honestly, I would like to thank Acumen and Sannam S4 for for partnering with the University of Auckland to help us make that happen.

Marnie Watson

Thank you so much. I think I’m not surprised by your answers, but incredibly insightful as well because it is a nation changing vision that’s being shared with us. It’s quite extraordinary. Haike. I’m conscious. I’ve asked a question that wasn’t entirely relevant. Let me change the question. If I may, I’m conscious that you were here 20/25 years ago. Just briefly touch on for us the changes you’re seeing, you know, the conversation we’re having perhaps makes it a rather obvious question, but just talk us through a little bit what you’ve seen then and now.

Haike Manning, Acumen. Executive Director, South East Asia

Sure. Thank you. And thank you. Can I just say a quick shout out to Mani for ensuring that this panel is not all men this afternoon.

It was 20 years ago, when I was young, India was obviously quite a different place. And I was working at the New Zealand High Commission, at the time it was my first posting as a young diplomat here. And we were focused on many things at that time, we were focused on Bollywood and getting Bollywood film stars to New Zealand, we were focused on not getting beaten in the cricket, which we still haven’t managed to beat. I mean, 20 years on, it hasn’t changed.

But also in terms of international education, it was quite an immature relationship. At that point, we had quite strong migration flows from India to New Zealand at that time. But really, in terms of international student flows from India, it was quite uneven and quite patchy. Fast forward a few years ago, I was honoured before I went to Vietnam to actually lead the New Zealand government strategy on India. This is in 2012. And I made the prediction at that point that India would become the largest source of both migrants and students for New Zealand by 2020. And I think, it wasn’t far off in terms of that prediction. And I think the final point I wanted to make as well as that, maybe just picking up on Eric’s point before, I think what’s changed is that previously, you know, 20 years ago, New Zealand, for example, and I suspect other countries as well, hadn’t really figured out what India meant to them.

And maybe I’ll just speak on behalf of New Zealand rather than projecting onto other countries. But, you know, it was still very much a work in progress. 20 years on, it’s a much more sophisticated relationship we have, and the way in which the New Zealand government, I think, thinks about it, and I think institutions think about it, too, is it’s very much about it’s an all in partnership. And it’s understanding, not only that students contribute revenue to our institutions by coming to study there, but they contribute so much more to New Zealand by coming and being with us, or studying with us.

And just a data point, for those of you who don’t know, Hindi is now the fifth largest, fifth most widely spoken language in New Zealand, which gives you a sense of the deepening ties between New Zealand and India.

Marnie Watson

Thank you. So, noting the response to the first question, I’m interested to understand how has your university’s relationship is and maybe if I just target Lee, maybe Roger and Eric, to take this question, please. How have your universities and perhaps also your country’s relationship with India changed over the last perhaps short period of time, let’s talk about the last three to five years. You can add a few years noting we lost through COVID How’s it changed Lee, if you’d like to get started?

Lee Wildman, Director of Global Engagement, Queen Mary University of London

I speak on behalf of Queen Mary but I think is representative of many universities across the UK.

We opened our in-country representative office with two staff, six staff by August and that is really to sort of manage both the demand for education at Queen Mary but also the amount of work that we’re now doing outside the city. In 2011-2012 we were probably visiting six or seven cities regularly. We’re now moving into the tier two, tier three cities frequently because we’re seeing a lot of demand there from students so we now know that any better yet, so we’re not necessarily seeing India as a sort of single source market. Now it is multiple markets across different parts of the country.

But what I also see India as is a challenge for Queen Mary, where we are seeing the numbers come through. But what we haven’t yet been able to do is get enough of our students out to India to experience part of their Queen Mary education, or their higher education more generally, in India, so for the past three years, we’ve we’ve sent out probably in the region of 700 800 900 students to different parts of the world, but not one of them has yet come to India under one of our international exchange programmes. And that’s despite us having two or three relationships in place to try and foster that. 

So I think one of the challenges for Queen Mary and actually probably one of the challenges for Indian institutions and the Indian government, if they do see India as an inbound student destination for international students over the coming years, is to try and embrace that challenge, you know, follow the lead that other countries have taken in the past to, to develop study in India campaigns, which we’ve seen in China, and we’ve seen in South East Asia and other parts of the world, because, at the moment, perhaps some students, you know, again, speaking on behalf of Queen Mary only, but perhaps it’s, it’s true across other universities as well. India isn’t necessarily at the top of the list when students are looking for an overseas education as part of their Queen Mary degree, although we see that as a challenge that we’re willing to, to embrace and take on over the coming years.

Erik Lithander, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Strategic Engagement, University of Auckland

So New Zealand recognises that there’s a small difference in scale between our two systems. So New Zealand has eight universities, I believe India has 55,000 post secondary institutions of some sort. So if we’re going to be able to unlock the potential of meaningful partnership at the national level between our two systems, New Zealand needs to work as one because we’re so small. This week, there’s an education New Zealand delegation with all the universities represented in India, and I was on that delegation for the last three days. But I changed course to come here for the next two days. And we are here as a country, the whole system to speak with one voice about our wish for partnership in in India, there is also the New Zealand Center at IIT Delhi, funded by all the eight universities on an equal basis with it Delhi, we have research funding schemes, we have fellowships, which are aimed at boosting the the links at the research level between all the New Zealand universities and initially IIT Delhi, but eventually, hopefully other universities as well. I think there has been a recognition in New Zealand increasingly, that the transactional relationships that I described earlier, which can be fine at the institutional level, that’s not going to work at the national level, if you want to make a meaningful impression on a country of this scale. And that’s the approach that New Zealand is taking.

Roger Brindley, Vice Provost, Penn State Global at Penn State University

And Marnie, it’s not an exaggeration to say that we were ripping up the playbook on India, and we as an institution at Penn State and resetting our whole strategy for India, because of what’s happening in India.

We’ve always been privileged and I do mean privileged to have a very steady and growing number of Indian students come to study at Penn State. So for us, the question is, how do we get past that and beyond that, so that we can be a true partner? So we’re taking this year to restructure all our dual degrees and, and twinning programmes so that we create the equivalency structures within our institution to be fast and nimble, because we think that’s what Indian higher education needs from us.

Our president is one of three presidents leading an American Association, American universities Task Force on India. And, and we are also wondering, and that’s part of the reason why I’m here. I don’t go as far as a wonderful speaker, Sanjeev Sanyal earlier this afternoon, but we don’t know how India gets from 40 million to 80 million students in higher education. Without hybrid, high quality hybrid digital delivery. We think you have no choice. So we’re trying to help ourselves think about that idea as well, because we’d like to be true partners in that effort, because we think India is going to need partners. So that’s sort of in a nutshell, what we’re going for.

Marnie Watson 

I think it is a very valid point to challenge ourselves. And you know, your point about ripping up the playbook Roger, it’s time for us to be very much thinking differently, and I think Sanjeev maybe challenged us some of us a bit uncomfortably, but that’s what we need to be to be thinking like,

Can I maybe start Len with yourself? Knowing the conversation, we’re having the volume of students population, we’re talking about? How are you either handling now or planning to handle an over reliance on a single country like India? Perhaps you’ve got experience through China?And I guess tied to that is how important is nationality diversification then in your university strategy? And Haike? If you would like to think about it? I’ll come to you as well around diversification.

Len Jessup, President, Claremont Graduate University, USA 

Can I get back in on the earlier one? This is a tough question. No, I’m kidding. Good question.

I’m at now, a small private, you know, the joke. I’m a part of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of small private schools just outside of Los Angeles. I like to joke with people that it’s, like the Ivy League, but with better weather is essentially where we’re at. And we’ve been making, that’s our, that’s our mantra in recruiting. But I come from big public universities, I went to big public universities in the US and have been a business school Dean and a university president and a big public. So it’s my first time at a small private. And as you might expect, given that it’s private, and it’s small, to me, it feels like we are so nimble and entrepreneurial compared to those big battleships that I’ve worked out or have run before this.

So we have no choice, but to rely on partnerships and multiple markets and contingency plans. And, relying on a diversity of students coming in nationalities and locations and all the rest. It’s by nature, I mean, we have no choice. But to do that we’ve drawn traditionally, quite heavily from all throughout Asia, I think like a lot of US based institutions, we were drawing pretty heavily from China, up until the pandemic hit.

And I think that that, that that severe drop off from China, that was a good lesson for Claremont Graduate University, that you can’t necessarily be reliant on one because I think there were some programmes that had gotten very reliant on that one source of students and a couple of particular programmes that have done that now are really hurting, because of that, over reliance, so there’s clearly got to be the diversity of inputs coming in. 

The other thing we’ve done, just mention one other quick thing, and that was it’s really a sea change, for Claremont Graduate University. I, personally, have been a huge proponent of online education. I think of myself as a bit of a change agent and have long launched online programmes at many different universities that are quite successful. Then I got to Claremont Graduate University, a different world, little small, private, beautiful campus, tucked up in the foothills behind Los Angeles, small intimate seminars, great faculty. It’s all that’s in the DNA. And that’s the model. And when I got there, before the pandemic, we had launched a couple of online programmes, but it was difficult to get faculty to embrace that model, then the pandemic hit. And within literally one week in the March of 2020, we had to take everything online overnight, we were forced to, we had no choice coming out of that the faculty have chosen to continue to do online and hybrid programming, which is a game change for our little private, college with a liberal arts kind of a background. And I say that we’re now the faculty that have embraced that model. We’re partnering with my good friend, Michael Crow at Arizona State University, on our master’s in public health, taking that fully online up to the next level.

You know, our faculty wouldn’t have done that three years ago, but now are embracing that. And in particular, the faculty of public health really would like to do that. And to your question, I mean, that’s sort of the biggest,the probably the best way to guard against, you know, being over reliant on students from any one place is to offer programmes that can take students in from anywhere anytime six starts a year, you know, super convenience. And we’re agnostic to that programme to where the students come from. 

Marnie Watson

Thank you Len. Haike, I’m conscious that you are South East Asia based South East Asia focused in your area of responsibility within Acumen and probably need to fight the corner of South East Asia a little bit. Would you like to talk to us about your perspective on diversification?

Haike Manning, Acumen. Executive Director, South East Asia

I feel the room might be against me. But anyway. No, I mean, I think, you know, going back to the first question than the first proposition, yes, of course, India makes sense as being central to, you know, universities and institutions strategies in the future, but at the same time, what we’re seeing is we’re seeing a lot of institutions, either coming to us to talk about South East Asia, or coming to South East Asia themselves, as a diversification hitch, in particularly against avoiding over reliance on a single nationality.

And just to give, like maybe a little bit of context to the audience as well, South East Asia, I mean, it’s very hard to compare anything to India. But just to kind of put a couple of data points out there, South East Asia has a population of around 660 million people. So that’s just under, I’m being liberal with my maths here, but it’s around just under half of India’s population spread across the region. And in terms of the number of students, outbound students from the region, studying at higher education, it’s over 350,000 students. So again, not quite at the numbers that India is at, but still very, very significant. So, what we’re finding is that institutions are increasingly saying, okay, India and China, yes, fantastic, but at the same time, South East Asia is hard to ignore. And you combine that also with a lot of changes that are happening in places like Vietnam, and Indonesia, two of the big population centres, and two of the big, fast growing economies of South East Asia. And you look at what’s happening in terms of the regulatory frameworks for transnational education, and the opportunities that are opening up for institutions to play in a different way in those markets as well.

Just as an example, with the first branch campuses being set up in Indonesia now, because of a change in regulation with Monash and now, Deakin Lancaster setting up as well. So, we are really seeing, a lot of institutions very sensibly say, yes, then here is the cornerstone, China is incredibly important. But we need to hedge and South East Asia is very important. 

And the final point just to make here is that it’s not just important from an institutional point of view, it’s also really important from a student experience point of view. So for the international students and, and the domestic students studying at the University of Auckland, or at Penn State or whatever. You know, I was talking to a couple of our staff yesterday who both had the privilege of studying overseas. And they were talking about the importance of that diversity of student body for them as part of their experience, and not being surrounded by only Indian students, but having the privilege of meeting many different nationalities while they were studying there as well. So, yes, thumbs up for diverse diversification. Absolutely.

Roger Brindley, Vice Provost, Penn State Global at Penn State University

I’m glad you asked the question Marnie, because I should have made this clear, when we think at Penn State about changing our structures and the way we organise our academic articulation and think about our research partnerships, in the context of India, we understand that eight of the ten fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa, that the fourth largest country in the world by population is Indonesia, the Brazil’s anticipating a major demographic growth, and that the Central Asian states on top of South Asia. So for us, getting it right in India, sets us up right 35 years from now, India will not be the most populated country on Earth, Nigeria will be so how do we as an institution think about the long game? And so in my mind, it all ties together.

Marnie Watson

Thank you, Roger. Erica Lee, did you want to comment on that?

Erik Lithander, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Strategic Engagement, University of Auckland

I think you can live with the corporate risk of over reliance, if either your brand is irresistible, or your marketing recruitment activity is so slick that you can rely on year after year after year of results from the country in which you’re over reliant. And in the old days, the two things that we’re really worried about were pandemics and wars. So we’ve had a pandemic so we now know what that feels like. If there were to be a war, well, then student numbers are the least of our worries. So I think the reality for diversification is that it’s not only about the country, but it’s also about the level of study in which you’re receiving the students and the subjects into which you’re receiving the students. If you can spread the students out by level and by discipline, then what might look like an over reliance from a nationality perspective, is less of an issue from a corporate risk responsibility, but I completely take Haike’s point. The other more serious problem with over reliance is the impact that that has, not only on those students, but on your domestic students who are trying to develop their networks with with international colleagues international peers in the university and finding that our campus community is not as diverse as it should be.

Lee Wildman, Director of Global Engagement, Queen Mary University of London

Thank you. Yeah, just from a Queen Mary perspective, diversity is the golden thread that runs through Queen Mary’s everything we do from our home student recruitment through to international student recruitment, and that’s across all of our 19 schools and institutes. And we’re fairly fortunate being a London based university that was a natural draw from students all over the world to come to London. So we do benefit from that. But we don’t rest on those laurels. We have 170 nationalities represented at Queen Mary, my team travels to over 50 countries each year to engage with prospective students. And the way that I approach how I lay out my marketing budget at the start of each year is in three blocks, essentially, China, India, and the rest of the world. China and India currently make up around 1/3 of our international student body, Queen Mary, the rest of the world makes up the other two thirds. And the way we approach it is we spend essentially 25% of our marketing budget on India and China, because the numbers are coming through there with you know, not too much of a sort of pull factor. The students who come without us having to work quite as hard as we do in other parts of the world. So we spend around 75% of our marketing budget on those rest of the world markets so that we can maintain that balance. Well, I would say, oh, there are a couple of schools to Eric’s point, there are a couple of schools where, particularly postgraduate law at Queen Mary draws in a huge number of students from India a huge amount of interest and application. So there are no we’re having those conversations we were having with a business school about China five years ago, about India with postgraduate law and, and I expect that the team in computer science is going to be knocking on my door soon as well.

Marnie Watson

Thank you, if I could perhaps speak to some of my Acumen in-country representation colleagues, I think this message that I’m hearing from my university colleagues here is this focus on diversification is very real. It’s very, very much a priority. And that’s so important to the student experience. So I just, you know, want to make sure everyone’s hearing this, this relevance to the question and the answers that are coming through. 

Thank you, Len, you touched on how much your faculty have embraced online learning. And we all have learned an incredible amount about that area through need over the last couple of years. I’m interested from the panel, starting with Len, around your university strategy with regard to these alternative methods, not only of delivery, so online delivery, hybrid delivery, but also these alternative methods to student recruitment, online platforms around student recruitment. How’s your university’s approach or perspective on that?

Len Jessup, President, Claremont Graduate University, USA

I just can’t believe how much has happened for us in the last three years or so.

It was, I mean, literally, like pulling teeth, you know, prior to pandemic, trying to launch the online progress in terms of working that through the faculty, but also with the staff, we had a very tried and true model, 100 year old model of everything in person on campus intimate. And we still do that, we do it really well. It’s a great place to go for small, intimate seminars. Our average class size is tiny, teeny, teeny tiny, compared to some of the numbers I’m hearing about from folks today. And so we’ve had to change all of that. So not just the modalities that the faculty used to teach. But the way all of the employees around the university do everything that they do. Everything had to flip to online analogs, every single thing we do. 

So we would pride ourselves, for example, on incoming classes of students, we do a preview session on campus, for them that was just beautiful, this sort of great experience that you get in Southern California to get you all excited about being there at the campus. All that had to flip to online analogues during the pandemic. So all those staffing functions. We just did a preview a week ago. And what we’re doing now post pandemic is we do both and the staff have to do both. We do the online, the on ground experience like we used to do that’s got a few 100 people there. And it’s an incredible experience for two days on campus, your little taste of what it’s like the life of the mind living in Southern California. But we’re also still doing the analogues all online. 

It’s a lot of extra work for staff because we’re duplicating everything now in both worlds. So the modality it’s a good question you asked because the modality changes extend to everything at the University, not just what the faculty are doing in the classroom. And the other thing is interesting about the modalities for us. I just made one other comment from the faculty point of view.

So because we’re all graduates only graduate all the time, just masters and doctoral programmes, we’re not doing that anymore really the old sage on the stage model with, you know, faculty, the experts stands up and he’s lecturing, everybody’s taking notes. And then you do that for some time, you know, maybe half the semester, and then and then it flips. And then the students have to sort of, they have to regurgitate that back in a test, we don’t really know how to do that model. Everything is collaborative, it’s applied, it’s team based, it’s you’re out solving problems for this industry or that particular issue. In one class students were working on voting, voting rights for Native Americans up in the Dakotas, and actually spending time up in North and South Dakota. That’s the kind of learning that’s going on. And so for us, it was, you know, the modality changes that we knew that needed to be done in a more flexible and convenient mode online. 

But how do you flip that into online? You can, it’s sort of like, you have to act like you’re McKinsey and Company or PwC, you’re a consulting agency, you’re really running consulting projects that students happen to be learning from as they’re going through. And that caused all kinds of interesting modality, thoughts about modality from both the faculty and a staff point of view, not easy, but that’s the world we’re in right now.

Erik Lithander, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Strategic Engagement, University of Auckland

And underappreciated and not sufficiently discussed. 

Change that, I think is impacting and coming to international education is environmental sustainability. So for the University of Auckland, the main driver for increasing our online presence or hybrid presence, and our TNE presence is not actually derisking over reliance on source markets, but it’s decarbonising our International, or an international strategy. 80% of our carbon comes from travel from staff, and students. So if we want to remain internationally relevant and present and have meaningful numbers of international students, then we cannot continue to bring every single one of them to Auckland, because we will not be able to reduce our carbon footprint as a university if we don’t do that. 

So opportunities to start students offshore, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want them to come to Auckland, but maybe not come and go every single year, which is what they’re doing at the moment. So maybe start them off offshore for a year or two, either in a press in physical presence or online, and then transition them to the university would be a good opportunity. One of the factors which allowed us to keep the lights switched on during the pandemic was that we set up five learning centres around China, allowing students who were stuck because of the pandemic, to live and learn on a university campus, a partner campus of ours, in the gym, in the cafeteria in the library, doing everything that students do, but when they went to class, it was an online class with us. And that model was out of necessity. We would like to formalise and institutionalise that model as a decarbonisation strategy as much as anything else.

Roger Brindley, Vice Provost, Penn State Global at Penn State University

Yeah, yeah. Ditto, ditto Ditto.

We have 550 students in Shanghai during COVID. It was interesting, but fabulous point. I went to two other constituencies that have risen in how we think about them. Or to put it another way, we finally worked out that we shouldn’t ignore them. It won’t surprise your institutional representatives at Sannam S4, it took us a while to get our head around social media.

Our incoming students know who the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Henrique may Professor long before I look it up, they know where they’re living. They know what the clubs are, they know how to get to us from Philadelphia, they know everything. And then the other group are our alumni. For years, we really hadn’t

purposefully set out to intentionally ask our alumni to be part of the work but our alumni are actually our greatest marketers. And you would think that was pretty obvious, wouldn’t you? But, it took a while. So the alumni are really important to recruitment. And for those of you recruiting for Sannam S4, I’m in India, remember that.

Marnie Watson

Lee, would you like to comment on the online recruitment platform angle of this question and how your university is accepting or monitoring that part of online activity? 

Lee Wildman, Director of Global Engagement, Queen Mary University of London

Sure. Yeah.

I think it’s fair to say we’re in the monitoring stage at the moment we haven’t fully embraced it. That hasn’t necessarily been a need to embrace some of the sort of ad tech that’s out there now with regards to your apply boards and your other student applying or other organisations of that ilk.

But you know, we are looking at it all the time, particularly if it can help us in markets where we’re not currently engaged, or perhaps where we are only able to travel for budgetary constraints once a year or perhaps not at all. So, yeah, we’re, on the sort of outside looking in, I guess, at what’s working, what are the universities are saying about it, how easy it is to engage, whether it’s actually bringing enrollments, or whether it’s bringing just additional applications for an already overworked admissions team. So there are dangers there. 

But who knows where we’ll be perhaps, if I can come back on your 20th birthday anniversary the situation might have changed a little bit. But as things stand where we’re on the outside looking at those kinds of things, although what I would say is, for the first time we’re doing an advertising campaign in India, particularly focused on undergraduate Indian students. So that’s not something we’ve done before but it draws in leads to the institution rather than to a third party.

Len Jessup, President, Claremont Graduate University, USA

Just gonna add, we’re invested now heavily in social media, all platforms as a mechanism for recruiting from all around the world. And the anecdote was just that, we’ve rebuilt the marketing team toward that end. And much of it is devoted around digital advertising, organic social media, and other mechanisms using the social media platforms. And the team is quite a bit younger than I am. I thought I was hip, but I’m not and finally admitting that and that this team is very young and understands the platform very well. And we got them all in place, they decided they wanted to come and do a little videotaping with me in the US on social media. We do some videotaping out in the courtyard, and I’m used to then having to prep and go through bullet points and all this content I’m going to deliver out there and they came in said, no, no, no, just we’re going to ask you a series of questions and then they put it together. And it’s a little 32 second clip, to run on TikTok. And so it’s a complete mindset change, I can tell you, for those of us have been around the planet for a while. It’s a totally different mindset. 

And it’s all now aimed at students coming from all around the world. And we’re reaching them a heck of a lot more effectively and efficiently than we were before through these mechanisms. So now I’m ringing them up with ideas that you know, for little things we can do on TikTok and Instagram and these kinds of things so that we can learn we do learn.

Marnie Watson

Well done Len,  I hope I don’t offend you, when I say how much I’m concerned, there might be some of the audience rolling their eyes and also a few on stage.

Before I continue with the next question, I just want to do a little shout out if I may to New Zealand, when when COVID hit I was managing a group of academic pre University pathway academics across New Zealand and Australia. And I’ve got to say the New Zealand resilience and open mindedness to moving online was so notably different to Australia in the positive. So I just want to do a little shout out to New Zealand on that area.

So I am going to come to audience questions. So please think up your questions. I’m going to ask one more question here. And then we’ll pass it over to you. 

I wanted to note that the Foreign Affairs Minister recently stressed that in a globalised world, it’s absolutely essential that young people of India are fully aware of what’s happening in the world, no better way to do that than to bring international students to India. Now a couple of the panels have touched on this already. But hearing from universities yourselves, what would have to be true? Or what would it take to get students from your university to come to India? What do you need? Maybe just one or two points? And I know Lee, you touched on this. So if you want to get us started possibly, what would it take to get your 700 or so students here? 

Lee Wildman, Director of Global Engagement, Queen Mary University of London


So the majority of our students who do go out bound do so for a year. And then they spend a year in a partner university but there are also a number now that go out for short term summer schools.

Queen Mary has a home student body which is very local to the area and very diverse. So many of them carry responsibility. So spending a year overseas just isn’t possible for them. But there is a desire from them to have at least an international experience, be it a week or two weeks at some point during their three years with Queen Mary. So one of the initiatives that we have with some of our Chinese partners, for example is summer schools, where there is a sort of jointly funded initiative where in essentially the fees and the accommodation and so on are waived by the Chinese partner and Queen Mary support through the touring scheme or previously through Erasmus Plus, the funds to support that student to go out for a couple of weeks worth of summer school might be credit bearing might not be credit bearing. 

But I think India needs to sort of embrace those kinds of initiatives and really go hard in promoting them across all higher education sectors, be it UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, wherever, I think, because there’s so many more what might seem obvious destinations for students to spend their time at several of which are represented here. So I think there needs to be a campaign coordinated through the Indian government, that many other countries have done over the past 10/15 years, to try and embrace that inflow of students for either full time degrees or for short term study.

Len Jessup, President, Claremont Graduate University, USA

Yeah, I mean, I come out of a business school tradition. And so it’s the same thing, that’s what we do, it’s ingrained that you take students abroad in the summertime for trips, both undergrad, business students and MBA students and, and for us, I think you’d made a comment earlier in the day about the attraction around Europe. And that it wasn’t that way. For us with the business students, we were looking for interesting places to go, where there was a developing economy, something interesting happening from a social change perspective. And so we would take students into India, you know, to see the cranes going up in Mumbai, or the hustle and bustle in Bangalore, that we like those kinds of things. And so to help that happen more with Sannam S4 for or maybe seamless, in partnership with universities and in business organisations here, helping to set up interesting two week packages, to help somebody come over and be able to visit inside a company that’s, that’s doing something significant, or meeting with policymakers that are making interesting, interesting decisions that we would want our students to hear about and experience firsthand, I think you’ve got ready made customers for that. It’s just making them aware of and maybe literally putting together packages for them to come in, I think is the way to grow that audience.

Roger Brindley, Vice Provost, Penn State Global at Penn State University

Okay. I think part well, I think the vast majority of the problem lies with us or not with India.

It’s such a rich, extraordinary history and socio-cultural. I mean, millennia in this part of the world. And yet, it’s only been in recent years that you can study a full degree in Hindi at my university. We now have courses in a Vedic health that we never had before. And so I hope that as Indian Studies becomes a more purposeful part of our curriculum, that you will see more student mobility with that. I also think I mentioned this a little earlier, but the Chips Act in the in the United States, I think at the post grad level, joint supervision at the doctorate around research, I think we talked a little bit about research already,

I see a much greater opportunity for postgraduate student mobility around key strategic research areas as well. That’s so it’s probably going to be new growth, rather than pulling students away from Barcelona.

Haike Manning, Acumen. Executive Director, South East Asia

I just wanted to make a comment maybe from looking through the other end of the telescope as well. 

So actually, India’s drive to encourage inbound student mobility is actually being mirrored by lots of other countries in Asia as well. So you know, throughout South East Asia, I mean, Malaysia is obviously a very good traditional example of inbound students coming into Malaysia, Singapore. But you look at places like Vietnam, for example, which has exactly the same objectives and motivations in many ways as India does now. So I wouldn’t quite describe it as a beauty pageant. But I think certainly the proposition for students to come, India needs to really make sure that its proposition is really sound, and that students are feeling welcome. And they have all the conditions to come here, because actually, it is a competitive, a competitive space, and it’s going to become increasingly so.

Marnie Watson

Thank you for that question. Noting the music. I’m going to leave it there. And we have another colleague coming up to wrap up the day. So I’m going to leave it with a very big thank you to each of you for the really valuable insights and the sharing, which are incredibly important for everyone in the audience, and especially the document and in-country rep team. So thank you all so very much.

About the Acumen Global Gateway Summit: India

The Acumen Global Gateway Summit, held at the renowned JW Marriott hotel in New Delhi, marked a milestone in the Acumen@15 celebrationsThis exclusive invite-only event brought together the Acumen Global Team, distinguished guests, government officials, and experts. Client partners convened to discuss international higher education, exchange innovative ideas, and shape a vision for expanding access to higher education. The summit fostered collaboration, inspiration, and knowledge dissemination among higher education professionals. With its unique setting and thoughtful discussions, the event offered an exceptional platform for networking and setting the course for a future of inclusive and transformative higher education.

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