Acumen Leadership in Conversation— with Ritika Singh: Exploring new avenues in India higher education

Ritika Singh is Director of Customer Experience, India at Acumen. She began her career in financial services, with a corporate licence to trade on NYSE, certified on NASDAQ: Series 6 and Series 63, she worked as a Senior Financial Analyst for US clients. After a brief stint in the IT sector, she moved to the aviation sector. Airbus and Boeing Certified, she was responsible for auditing and implementing safety and security procedures across the network.

At Acumen, Ritika works with global higher education institutions from six countries helping deliver their internationalisation objectives across high-growth markets in India, China, the Middle East, and South East Asia.

Let’s recap the Indian market and the higher education sector. What happened in 2022?

I think 2022 was a very interesting year because half the world called it the post-pandemic era, while the other half called it the new reality.

In India, the National Education Policy has been signed off, creating new avenues for student mobility and learning. Student mobility is not just restricted to the students who want to do STEM courses or want to study business and have an MBA degree and get a job, but the new opportunities that have opened up in different countries. A student who’s doing visual arts can also now focus on business.

So it’s been a really promising year for the education landscape within India because Indian schools are also looking at experiential learning now. That’s a real shift.

India is the youngest country in the world and due to lack of institutions in India the push theory to send students overseas is seen to educate students is there, where more and more people are moving out 

What were the main struggles or complications that you heard clients and those in the industry talk about this year?

Universities have struggled to restructure the recruitment processes and there have been a lot of unexpected costs in streamlining their systems. Student numbers, turnaround times and investment in the process have fluctuated a lot and added to that there have been delays in visa processing from the receiving countries and their institutions. Students have a lot more questions to ask. With a high number of applications come concerns with conversion and focus on quality has become even more imperative. 

What new concerns face higher education in 2023?

I think the concerns are going to be macro in nature; recessions, geopolitical impact, currency fluctuations and tech layoffs. A lot of Indian students go for STEM-based courses, computer science and engineering for the return on investment to get a highly paid job. But with so many people having lost their jobs, we hear them saying… is it really worth my money? Making students ready to undertake transferable skills is a concern and a focus at the same time. VISA timelines and shift in paradigm due to external factors. Ed tech fluctuations.

What should higher education leaders be on the lookout for any potential derailers, issues or legislation that could have an impact?

I think it’s the speed of change and rapidly moving goalposts. What’s right one day might not necessarily be right the next. It’s overwhelming in a country the size of India and that’s why you have Acumen working for you if you have competing priorities and you want to do more than just student recruitment. It’s not just about getting those numbers. It’s about that quality, it’s about sustainability and it’s about commitment to the market. It’s about doing right by students. Alongside being with partners who have ethical practices. Be tuned in with all changes in market like the UGC regulations like the CUET entrance exams etc and the impact in the student journey

What trends can we expect to emerge or continue in 2023?

The hybrid way of learning and the hybrid way of recruitment will continue. It’s become a necessity and we’ve achieved so much by doing this virtually. We’ve missed the in-person but hybrid is the new normal. Also having a clear understanding of where the push is towards the ranking of an institution, what are the parameters that you’re really focusing on? Sustainability is another very, very big trend that has emerged in the last couple of years.

SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) are a social responsibility every individual has and I think this is something that we need to look at as experts in higher education. Universities need to look at more courses, which highlights and builds awareness and here in India, I think it’s amazing to see how high schools are now focusing on sustainable development goals.

I think there’s a lot of creative thinking happening behind the scenes, and it’s imperative to note that these trends will result in the emergence of new kinds of jobs in new kinds of industries. We should be mindful of that, keep a finger on the pulse and keep communicating this to stakeholders.

Why is this trend important for higher education leaders?

Educators need to properly engage with their students and be aware of the latest changes so understanding these trends and creating a positive learning environment is extremely important for educators right from the very early stage. Look at the industry focus and work back to from while designing the content of your courses.

How does this trend link to student or parent decision-making?

I think we have a responsibility to make parents and students aware of what are the other options. While STEM subjects remain very popular we do now have requests for information on social sciences, philosophy etc as students become aware that they could go on to work for the UN or a similar organisation. Parents are now more open to having conversations around other areas of study.

Where should leaders in higher education invest their time, money, or resources?

I’m a firm believer that skills are transferable. It opens up your horizons to a lot more things when costs don’t map directly to returns. Investment should focus on innovation, industry fitment and Sustainability (in no particular order)

What is your overall outlook on 2023 in higher education?

TNE  programs like Dual degrees, a hybrid way of learning, I think that’s something that we need to focus on in 2023. We need to look at projecting demand better and consider engagement from a wider stakeholder network in the market. 

We need to work very collaboratively with the state government Minister of Education, the Ministry of Education and all the people who really make a difference in delivery from a Macro Lens

Any message or thoughts that you’d like to share with us all?

I think India is the right place to be right now. We would definitely encourage universities to come, visit and explore because there is something for everyone. The government is very supportive of new ideas and together, this is the time to make a difference.

Check out more from Acumen leadership in conversation for more reflections, insights, and predictions for 2023.