AGGS Sessions: 10K Voices – The changing aspirations and concerns of an internationally ambitious student

With Moderator Ritika Singh, Acumen


  • Ritu Sharma, Senior Regional Advisor, Victoria University
  • Shishir K Upadhyay, Principal Advisor, University of South California
  • Sonu Himani, Senior Partnerships Officer, King’s College
  • Vinita Nilesh Desai, Senior Recruitment Advisor, University of Auckland

Welcome to an engaging and insightful panel discussion titled “10K Voices: The Changing Aspirations and Concerns of an Internationally Ambitious Student.” In this session, the panel embark on a journey to explore the dynamic landscape of higher education through the lens of students who aspire to study abroad.

The esteemed panel, comprising experts with diverse perspectives and experience, is poised to unravel the evolving aspirations and concerns of these globally minded students. Guiding the discussion as the moderator is Ritika Singh from Acumen, a renowned figure in the realm of international education. Guests on the panel include Ritu Sharma, Senior Regional Advisor, Victoria University, Shishir K Upadhyay, Principal Advisor, University of South California, Sonu Himani, Senior Partnerships Officer, King’s College and Vinita Nilesh Desai, Senior Recruitment Advisor, University of Auckland.

Together, they bring a wealth of knowledge and insights, representing a range of leading educational institutions. Delve into the changing aspirations and concerns of internationally ambitious students, exploring their goals, challenges, and the evolving landscape of higher education.

The discussion uncovers valuable insights that will benefit educational institutions, policymakers, and students alike with active participation from the audience, keen to share their knowledge and experiences on important subject areas.

Five Key Takeaways

  1. Diverse Aspirations: Internationally ambitious students exhibit a diverse range of aspirations. While academic excellence remains a common goal, students increasingly seek holistic experiences that encompass cultural immersion, personal growth, and career opportunities. Institutions should tailor their offerings to cater to this multifaceted set of aspirations.
  2. Global Concerns: Students are increasingly attuned to global issues such as climate change, social justice, and pandemic preparedness. They seek educational institutions that address these concerns and offer opportunities for engagement and impact. Sustainability and social responsibility have become critical factors in their decision making process.
  3. Technology and Flexibility: The panel discussed the growing influence of technology in education. Internationally ambitious students are drawn to institutions that offer flexible learning options, including online and hybrid programs. The ability to adapt to changing learning environments is now a key consideration for students.
  4. Mental Health and Well-being: Concerns about mental health and well-being are on the rise among students, especially given the challenges posed by the pandemic. Educational institutions must prioritise mental health support services and create a supportive campus environment to meet these needs effectively.
  5. Career Readiness: Students are increasingly focused on career outcomes. They seek educational experiences that provide not only academic knowledge but also practical skills and industry exposure. Institutions should emphasise career readiness and facilitate internships, co-op programmes, and networking opportunities to meet these expectations.

Below is the transcript

Ritika Singh

10,000 Indian voices. This means a lot for everybody who’s been at Acumen over the last few years. But a lot of guests who have come from overseas, have just heard this from this morning talking about a survey or report and what it entails. 

We had some amazing sessions yesterday, and I think I can speak personally on behalf of myself and the team that we’ve learned a lot. We dignitaries, government officials, ambassadors, Niti Aayog, I mean, you say the word and we had it. They’ve all had perspectives. It’s really, really important to know what’s happening in India, from policymakers, to people who implement it, and equally from the universities, because they are the ones who are sitting 1000s of miles away, telling us what is workable. It’s very different for us to say this is what we want. But then it’s the universities who tell us well, this will work and this may need a little bit of a tweak. 

Throughout this morning, we’ve had again, very, very interesting sessions where we’ve had colleagues give us their perspective when they’re on ground. The information on this report is not something that you can find from Google type information, and you’ll get 100 answers. This is the reality of what colleagues live with on a daily basis. The 10,000 voices is a reflection for us to hear what the student really wants, we all want the good. We want to do things for students. We are all here for the outcome to give students a choice. Look at their career aspirations. But what did they think is equally important? For me, it is the most important. 

Without further ado, I’m going to introduce our panel to you. We’ve got colleagues who represent universities from across the globe, very, very senior advisors, principal advisors, working at Acumen representing different universities. I think it’d be fair for them to speak a couple of lines about themselves before we start the discussion. Over to you.

Sonu Hemani, Senior Partnerships Officer, King’s College

Very Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Sonu Hemani. I have been working with Acumen for the past 11 months, and I represent King’s College London as a senior partnership officer. Prior to that, I’ve had around 15 years of working experience while working with the British Council as the head of higher education. And I’m very thrilled to be here on this panel, sharing some of the experiences and practices that we followed earlier or we’re going to follow now. And looking forward to engaging with you all during the panel and also after the panel. Thank you all.

Shishir K Upadhyay, Principal Advisor, University of South California

Thank you. Thank you. So my name is Shishir Upadhyay , and I represent the University of Southern California as Principal Advisor. So I have around 15 plus years of experience in higher education and health. I came into higher education when Nisha called me while I was working with Xavier. So that’s how I came to Sannam S4 and I’m really loving, coming here representing institutions and contributing to the best of my capacities. Thank you so much.

Ritu Sharma, Senior Regional Advisor, Victoria University

Hello, everybody. I am Ritu Sharma and I work for Acumen supporting Victoria University, Melbourne. I’ve been in the education industry for over 15 years from representing universities in Australia to the UK to the agent side and being a teacher myself. It’s a fascinating journey. I think it’s an ever growing and an ever learning field we all are in. I’m very glad to be sitting here and sharing our experiences from the students perspective. Thank you.

Vinita Nilesh Desai, Senior Recruitment Advisor, University of Auckland

Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. I know post lunch sessions are always heavy. I am Vinita Desai, and I’ve been with Acumen for the last three years supporting University of Auckland as a senior recruitment advisor working in the South Asia region. Like Ritu, I’ve worked in the space of education for over 15 years now. I’ve been working as an assistant professor for a while for almost a decade and then moved on to international education. And thank you so much for having us here. It’s gonna be very interesting to listen to colleagues and discuss our experiences here in recruitment and student mobility. Thank you so much.

Ritika Singh

Thank you everyone. Chitra Jain said that before you leave, please take your copy of the 10,000 voices. So let’s tell you a little bit about this.

This is primary research, probably, I daresay, one of the most authentic reports, you’ll see and hear about the student population, which is 1/5 of the world’s total population, we’ve taken a demographic of the age group between 18 to 25. But the panel here probably speaks to the demographic of 16 to 25.

Each one of them came and told you Sorry, my colleagues have how much experience they bring a wealth of experience. This panel, when we were deciding who should be speaking, we were very, very clear that we want in-country representatives, colleagues who are on the ground, but doing slightly different roles, not just student mobility, which we call the presence in country representation. But people who work in the undergraduate space colleagues who do brand positioning colleagues who do partnerships, because each one of them at some point or the other touch on the student experience. So you will hear their experiences from different lenses. So it’s not just about different countries, but it’s also the different lens and the different roles they do.
I’m going to start from the far end, if I may Vinita? I know this was not prompted but if you don’t mind, from your perspective, when you speak to students, and you have that experience of engaging with them to go to your university. What do you think are the key drivers?

Vinita Nilesh Desai, Senior Recruitment Advisor, University of Auckland

Thank you for that interesting question. Ritika. And, yeah, I would just like to cite some of my observations in the last five years in this space, that there is a chunk of students around 30-40% of students who know where they want to go, who know what they want to study. And so they are very particular about the country that they want to go to in the rankings in reputations, and academics and research. These are guys who know where they want to go, and they have a reason to come to you.

There’s another 50% or so who come to you. These I would call, as you know, researchers who’ve done their comparative study of different countries and come to you with all of the information they have. And then their key deciding factors are very important. That’s where we pitch in to talk about our country. 

So for me from a New Zealand perspective, when these researchers come to me having the comparative study that they’ve already done, then it’s important for me to highlight from a New Zealand perspective about factors like employability, so I do talk about the employability rate at University of Auckland, which is really very high, and reasons of why you should be studying in Auckland. Auckland is like Mumbai, the largest financial hub and there are plenty of opportunities for employment. 

Students are also very keen on understanding opportunities, not just for employment, but also talking in terms of part time opportunities, and of course, internships. So these are some very important factors that students look at, apart from the fact that obviously, New Zealand. Until recently, Australia announced their post study work rights, one of our USPS wants to talk about the three year post study work right. So, these are some very important factors apart from the usual ones and I love my colleagues to talk more about their perspectives.

Ritu Sharma, Senior Regional Advisor, Victoria University

Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the key driving factors in my opinion is the ROI post completion of the programme. And I think post pandemic another factor which has suddenly kind of taken all eyes is the safety and the emotional support, which a university offers to the students and parents specially are very concerned around how the university or that respective country can support the students emotionally as well. These are the two key drivers apart from you know, the other broader aspects in my opinion.

Shishir K Upadhyay, Principal Advisor, University of South California

Thank you. So, one thing which I like to highlight is that my fellow panellists have shared some valuable insights, but key drivers depend also on whether the student is going for undergraduate programme, graduate programme and even in graduate whether that person is going for the Masters or PhD. So the driver is different for each population for undergraduate students, the overall university experience is better and they will look at each and every component they will look at extracurriculars, they will look at the weather I will be able to participate in student clubs and organisations are not what’s the student outcome? How I will be able to interact with other departments.

If suppose a student is going in engineering he wants to know that candidate take classes in music department or dance department, or I’ll be able to pursue my sports passion, but if a student is going for the master’s programme, they are very focused they want to go and want to know that the student outcomes carrier statistics companies, that comes to the campus and all these are very important factors for a PhD student, they are pretty much independent, they know the department, they know the faculty, they know which topic they are going to research upon. So the driver depends on socio economic sector. 

If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy theory, the higher order needs are satisfied later, the basic needs come first. So those who are looking to move from a generation where no one went to college, they love to go and study first and get a job. And those who are coming from affluent backgrounds, they would love to explore and they want to go in an area which no one else has gone in. So needs are the important factor in deciding what drives someone.

Ritika Singh

Sonu, how about your view?

Sonu Hemani, Senior Partnerships Officer, King’s College

Thank you so much.

I kind of agree and resonate with all my panel members. But there are some of the key highlights, I would like to speak about the UK. I think what has been the key driver, I would say the post study work visa, because during the pandemic, while other countries were having a dwindling situation, the UK managed to remain at its top. It was difficult, but I think the post study really did give a good push.

Apart from that I think the scholarship opportunities that are not the students, they have the wide range of scholarship opportunities that has been provided to Indian students. Recently, I read that even the chancellor scholarship by Birmingham, which is very recent, announced there are lots of scholarship opportunities. And yesterday, I was speaking about the great scholarship, the Chevening scholarship, the British cancer STEM scholarship. So there are lots of scholarship opportunities, I think that’s another driving factor that students know, why do they offer the UK and what’s driving them towards the UK.

I would also say that when it comes to parents, they prefer the UK because of the distance. If they want to reach for any purpose, it’s only an eight hour journey. So I think you know, and the time difference is also not very far, it’s either one and a half hours or five and a half hours. I think from a parents perspective, the distance is a major factor. And in terms of another thing is that, we have a large diaspora of Indians over there, the current prime minister is also from Indian origin, and his roots are from India. 

I think these are some of the key drivers of the kind of pull students towards the UK. Apart from that, of course, there are various other factors, which is about the flexibility of the courses. And I’m not sure whether you all know, but to the oldest universities that have been set up, one of them is Oxford and the other is Cambridge. Oxford was set up in 1096. Era, and Cambridge in 1209. So which are like the oldest universities, even when the other universities were not even out in the world?

So I think, these are some of the reasons as to why you know, anyone chooses the UK or why the students are attracted towards the UK. 
Thank you so much.

Ritika Singh

Thank you, everyone. Just to make sure and see that everyone’s awake, we’re only on question number one. I’m going to open this question to the audience, because we’re talking about 10,000 voices and it’s really important to know if you have experienced any other drivers when you have been conversing with students, anybody from the audience has a different story or perspective, we’d love to hear that.

Apoorv Singhal, Regional Recruitment Advisor, Wright State University

I’ll just add a little bit of the US perspective, sorry, my name is Apoorv and I represent Wright State University. I’m an employee of Acumen and so we need to be complying. We need to be careful with how we represent. So let’s put it very clearly. Coming to the answer, or like my perspective of the UK, so sorry, USA.  There is a lot of talk about campus safety. So that is the US is sometimes very, I won’t say popular, but very impossible because of the shootings that happen and it’s always a sensitive topic to talk about in public forums. 

But I think now you see parents, when kids start to have that conversation where is your campus located? Do you have campus police? How do you go about student safety? So I think that is another key driver that we now see. Over the course of the last four years, so, or, again, like the trend keeps on changing, but that’s just one that I wanted to add.

Ritika Singh

Thank you. Thank you very much. Tanushree has a question as well. She’s raising her hand. Can we request the mic there?

Tanushree Bhattacharya, Senior Country Advisor, University of British Columbia

I just wanted to add from the Canadian perspective. And I found that apart from what all the panellists mentioned, one of the key things was how the government responded to the pandemic that was also very, very critical for parents. And they observed it very silently. I think for Canada, it worked because the Canadian government was the first one to come out and open and say that even if you study online, you will still get the post study work visa. So I think the government decisions and how they handle the pandemic also played a very, very important role.

Ritika Singh

Thank you, Tanushree, thank you, I appreciate that. Since Tanushree has touched on the pandemic, how can we have a panel without that? Sorry, there is another question I see. Oh, sorry. Another perspective. Yes, sure, Tom.

Thomas Whittaker, International Recruitment Manager, University of Central Lancashire

Thank you, Tom, with the University of Central Lancashire, in the UK.Just a few things that sort of came into my mind, and also working with my colleagues here that they’ve mentioned as well. Number one was the sort of the history of the UK, the vast history, the relations that we’ve had, but the culture, whether it’s music, whether it’s art, whether it’s the sports that you’ve got in the UK, that obviously young people are really interested in. The second thing as well was the finances obviously, being a three year degree in the UK, and actually, usually, typically slightly less in terms of the actual overall cost. And the third thing as well, it’s a small country. So it’s easy to get around if weather in the northwest of England is easy to get over to London or down to London, Visit Scotland Visit Wales. And also, it’s a gateway into Europe as well. So from a travel perspective, exploration in the UK is obviously a great place for that as well. So those are some things that we’ve talked about within the team as well. Thank you.

Ritika Singh

Thank you so much for sharing that perspective, very much appreciated. Speaking about the pandemic, and the new normal, as I like to call it. I just want to know from all of you, when you’re engaging with students, we’ve all had learnings, it’s just constant learning, we’re evolving. I think this has been the best innovation phase for us as practitioners who are on the ground. What do you see are the differences that you hear from students in terms of career opportunities, academics, or all of those things, and I’m going to request for Shishir to begin this because I know, with the US there’s been quite a graph, which has gone up and down, so your views and then of course, the rest of the colleagues if you can pitch in as well.

Shishir K Upadhyay, Principal Advisor, University of South California

The pandemic has taught us a lot of things. One thing that it has taught us a lot is being humane in our approach, being more understanding of others’ situations. And most of the universities, administrators are aware of it. So last year, especially during the pandemic, if you see the biggest example is when the results were out, both for CBSE IB, or universities. I think all the universities were very open, very supportive for students. Hey, it’s okay. We understand we are here. And that empathy is very much important in all communication and gone are the days when the Admissions Office has the sole responsibility of reaching out to students. Now, it’s a joint responsibility of the leadership executives, faculty members, Dean’s and admission office, to work together to ensure that the brand value the course curriculum, what you’re going to teach the industry types, what will be the student experience when the students lands up on campus should be communicated, and more prompt when the queries are coming? For any particular questions. It can come for a faculty, it can come from the admission office, it can come for a leadership stance on a particular initiative. So that humane approach being more empathetic, and the quickness and the quality of response, that’s important.

Ritu Sharma, Senior Regional Advisor, Victoria University

I think humanity is definitely one of the key factors, in my opinion, what we’ve learned from the pandemic is adaptability. How have universities adapted so quickly to the new normal?

Just to give you an example of Victoria University, we teach in a very unique model called the block model, where we teach only one unit at a time for undergrad students. We’ve been teaching it since 2018, before the pandemic, but post the pandemic we got an opportunity to actually open four intakes a year. So yes, it’s a big recruitment opening for the university but it also becomes an opportunity for the students to have multiple entry points in a given year. 

Given the results are delayed the online exams, there is a lot of delay from the Indian institutions as well, the students have an opportunity to have entries at multiple points without missing the opportunity to without missing a subject, which was usually the case as well. So something as revolutionary as the block model for us has proved a bonus because it’s benefited the students and the parents and has in a way benefited the university to have multiple recruitment points as well. So I think that that’s something which is incredible, which Victoria University has definitely done in this space.

Vinita Nilesh Desai, Senior Recruitment Advisor, University of Auckland

Well, quite a few of my thoughts are discussed by Shishir and Ritu but as I look at it and reflect, I think the pandemic has taught us all to pause and embrace change, like she mentioned, but also to reflect and revisit our vision, mission, goals and objectives and values and approaches in which we were looking at attaining them. And as a consequence, I think Dr. Eric Lithander mentioned in his panel discussion yesterday, New Zealand has a very collaborative approach. So I appreciate the fact that he said that we would want to be competitive. But collaboratively.

I think that’s very important. It’s very important that we work together. And I’ve seen the pandemic bringing us from transactional values to more to moving into more of transformational values where we work together, and we maintain our competitions in our own space. Also, interestingly, I would like to cite an example of flexibility that I’ve seen in the academics, which wasn’t as before, the pandemic is a fact that, for example, we’ve had teething issues. I know, I’m sure most of you, you know that New Zealand was the last to open its border. And we’ve had a lot of teething issues with it earlier, students would simply defer to the next intake. But now with the pandemic, we’ve got the academics have gone very flexible in terms of extending students until they are able to move to the campus, we have offered them online study. So that transition of moving into these synchronous and asynchronous modes of learning has been really a consequence of the pandemic. 

And there are several other examples that I could cite. But it’s very interesting to see how academics have really moved into a more flexible mode after pandemics. Thank you.

Sonu Hemani, Senior Partnerships Officer, King’s College

Well, from the US perspective, I think what the pandemic really thought was that, communication was a key factor. Because everything happens so suddenly. So communicating on a timely basis with the students with the parents became a very integral factor for all the universities and how they do it, they had to find a common platform. 

So I think that’s when the British Consulate stepped in, and any information about any university was put up on the British Consulate website, where students could go and check in and, find out what the latest update was, whether the university was open for an online class, or whether there was a face to face class or was was any kind of any other support that the university was providing. 

The other thing was the support while the students were facing some challenges, which is in terms of food or in terms of medicine, so in terms of any kind of, you know, social health, the student communities, within the universities, kind of really did? Well, I would say, when we joined together, communities came together. So yes, it made everybody more humble, and brought everybody together on the same boat. 

Having said that, it was interesting, we also helped a lot of people, where I would like to call it an example, where one of the universities had to go for an internship project, but because of the pandemic, they couldn’t go. So what literally happened was that which I have witnessed myself, they went for a virtual internship, wherein there were students from the university, around 10 students, and from other five countries and other 10 students, which in a normal day wouldn’t happen. All got together for a virtual internship, they are travelling to each other’s world in a virtual world, sharing practices, you know, sharing good practices, sharing the knowledge and at the end of the internship, they actually did not feel that they did not go to each other’s country because there was so much of exchange of knowledge and information through the virtual space. 

So I think that was a very good thing that happened. And, in fact, there was a survey that was done by Deloitte, to identify how the pandemic has affected individuals, the younger against around the world. And as you know, everybody got impacted in a not so good way, a lot of youngsters felt that it has impacted them in a better way because now they’re able to manage their work life balance better and they know what they don’t want than what they want. 

So, I think these are some of the bonus some of the pointers that you know that pandemic help and importantly, I think now, the mind mindset has shifted from moving from the the metro cities to the non metro cities because of the pandemic because how the industry is there was a started hiring people from the non metro cities because they see talent there. 

Likewise, I think even universities are starting to see that there is a lot of appetite in the three cities and they are moving away and shifting their mindset only from not focusing only on say, the metros in India, but also in the non metro or the upcoming metros. 

I think this is what panoramic has kind of changed the perception of universities and how they work and how they hire recruit students. Thank you.

Ritika Singh

Thank you, everyone. I think we’ve spoken about communication, whether you say that thing to put on the British Council, or you’re engaging with students and communications, a word which is very widely used, but it means very different things to different people.

I’m humbled and I’m privileged that I have one of the largest teams that I get to work with at Acumen. A lot of times I said, Oh, I didn’t realise this happened. I said, I don’t see this email, and I checked my emails, probably, very, very often, every few minutes. And somebody said, Oh, I sent you a WhatsApp, and I said, okay, but I don’t have my phone next to me, I’m working on my email. So I think communication has a lot of different connotations. 

Now, moving at that. A lot of people yesterday were also talking about what we can do, and a lot of times when I’m at conferences, people talk about social media, digital presence, and all of those things. But because 10,000 Voices is the voice of students. 

In your perspective, I’d like to hear what feedback that you’ve got when you’re engaging with students of how they like to be approached. So it’s alright with how we want to approach them. If it relates to me, I’d send them an email, but probably they want to see your Whatsapp or have a communication or Instagram page or all of those things, which are slightly different. 

So anyone who’d like to start with you, you spoke about the block model saying now you can engage four times more. So if you want to give it a stab?

Ritu Sharma, Senior Regional Advisor, Victoria University

I think the mindsets have changed. Students. 

I think for students, for parents, they want to engage face to face because that’s their comfortability, that’s how they were raised. But for students, it’s a very technology driven brain, which they have. If they have something on a phone, why would they really walk up to an agent office? So definitely post pandemic, there is a growth in social media marketing, which is pretty aggressive. 

The Indian student market is definitely more aggressive on Instagram Nepal for instance, is more on Tik Tok. Sri Lanka is again Facebook, Bangladesh is Facebook as well. So definitely social media is influencing. 

I would also like to add on the agent side there is an influx of smaller agents coming in and tying up with the aggregators is something which has become very popular post pandemic as well. There are pros and cons to waiting. There are threats and advantages to it. But how the university mitigates those risks is something which is another discussion altogether. But I think, yes, social media has its pluses. And students at the moment, they are definitely more comfortable connecting over social media platforms, over zoom over Skype than coming face to face to any of the events or offices.

Vinita Nilesh Desai, Senior Recruitment Advisor, University of Auckland

I like the way you set the context because it’s very interesting for us to know. We’ve actually moved from very traditional ways of approaching students to adapting social media. And it’s very interesting to see even as universities aren’t averse to having those campus tours, those videos to tell students about I think the visual appeal is really important for students. 

Whether it’s about an alumni voice or something about the growth and development of an alumni or, you know, simply taking them to the campus. It’s very interesting because these really appealed to the Gen Z or GZ as we call them. And also interestingly, I think talking about the agent aggregators, I’ve seen them as a boom specially during the pandemic because it is the best way to have a larger outreach and also the fact that they’re very good for brand building initially.I think so, yeah, likely to say they have their own pros and cons. 

But another way to look at engagement, and I think high school especially, there are several other platforms that I wouldn’t want to name here, because it might be very biassed if I name a few. But there are several other platforms where we’ve interacted with high school counsellors, who are our key point of contact with the students. So I appreciate the fact that in high schools, they would not want interference from agents, because they would want to maintain that quality there. So that’s a very interesting way of engaging with high school students, directly approaching the counsellor. 

I think most of us are in the counsellors group as well, where counsellors put in their request. Okay, guys, we’re having something here would you all want? So it’s a nice collaborative approach to reaching the high school students. And these days there has been another trend of directly approaching institutions, where I feel students feel that it is safer than approaching universities through an agent because they’re often misled. And it’s nicer when they come through an institution directly because the institution obviously has a check that gives them a background of what the seminar or the address or the fair is going to be. So that way, I think we can keep the institutions and we can keep a check on quality. So interesting ways, yeah, apart from age and whatnot, that we are looking at discarding the agent model, or we don’t appreciate it anymore, but there are different ways of approaching and yeah, thanks to the pandemic further. 

Thank you.

Sonu Hemani, Senior Partnerships Officer, King’s College

I think I resonate with Ritu, who mentioned Generation Z. 

I was just reading a report that was developed by Ernst and Young, wherein they shared a story of where Generation Z and millennials spend most of their time. Very interestingly, if you see, that Generation Z spends 77% of their time on YouTube, as opposed to millennials, I’m also one of the millennials, I spend my time on Facebook, which I’m like, Yeah, bang on. But then they use YouTube, which is followed by Instagram, and followed by Snapchat. 

So what does it mean? Well, I would like to call this particular generation as a generation, because their attention span is actually less than 5%, I mean, less than five seconds, which is, again, proven by, by proper research, that their attention span doesn’t go beyond five seconds. So whatever we need to do, whatever we need to communicate, or whatever we need to attract, it has to be within that five seconds. So we have to remember that that five second, we have to bang on, get that attention and get that communication message right on whether we use Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, because because these are the three important mediums where the students would like us to communicate through other important medium would be having an ambassador, or having their friends talk about your university, when they are when they are there. 

At your universities, I think it’s that personal touch that makes a lot of difference. Word of mouth. No, no matter whatever happens, the word of mouth will always, always remain high. So I think we should all leverage on the word of mouth, whether or not we create videos, again, less than five seconds, not more, or whether we know we create, you know, any kind of Instagram blog or we put up pictures or a story. But I think these are some of the mediums that we need to start reaching out to the audience before their attention span becomes even less than five seconds. 

Thank you.

Ritika Singh

Five seconds is getting me thinking. 

I have a question that I’d like to ask the audience and this has just come up because the panel has shared such interesting views. 

Someone who’s given us data points and what happens with Instagram, what age group, Facebook and all of those things, and really started the conversation saying, what are we talking about communication. This is what parents like now, I’m sure, from this lovely audience, some of you are parents and some of you have children who are making choices to go to university or to go to college. Ask parents if your children or someone you know, at this age, was to get an offer or get to know about a university or a college through one of those channels. How convinced would you be? Or would you like a more traditional approach because when it comes to India, parents have a very, very important role. They’re probably paying the fees or taking a loan on their financial condition. 

I’m just keen to hear from all of you. Would you as parents, any part of the world that doesn’t need to be Indian parents feel comfortable if we were using some of these new names that I’m hearing because I’m not technically that savvy, and I’m not on the fancy things like tik tok but from your perspective, would you rather have an email a sealed envelope, a fax? Would you be alright with Instagram saying I’ve got it? He asked us laughing because I said the word fax. But I’m just giving examples. 

So does anyone in the audience have an opinion?

Tanushree Bhattacharya, Senior Country Advisor, University of British Columbia

I’m a parent and I’m an ICR as well. 

So if my student was to do research on Insta, would have feedback on Insta. YouTube video as a parent, and I’m an Indian parent and my reputation precedes me. So therefore, I’m going to do a lot of ref checks. And I’m going to try and find somebody I know at the university to understand what’s been the firsthand experience, because especially for parents in this region, we fund the student’s education. So we really want to do the quality check. And be very, very sure that the institution is a valid institution and it’s not just an aspirational one, which has no brick and mortar. 

I know we spoke a lot about it yesterday. But yes, as a parent myself, I will not rely completely on tiktoks, YouTube videos, five second messages, I’m sorry, but I will definitely go on to the university’s website, which I think will validate, and which will assure me that this exists.

Ritu Sharma, Senior Regional Advisor, Victoria University

Absolutely, I think I completely resonate with Tanushree, the comment here, because I’m a parent myself, parents in India will be more convinced with face to face interaction. Because that gives a sense of validation. And I think word of mouth is unbeatable. In India, the younger generation is definitely reliant on social media, but as parents face to face.

Unknown Audience Member

Okay, I have a slightly different perspective. 

I’m talking about my daughter and her friends they’re not at that age yet. She’s 13. But she started thinking about these things, but they don’t read anything. You tell them to read a website, they’re not going to read it. So I’m very glad if she gets interested in a video she’s seen, because that then gives me the ability to tell her Okay, now do you know more about this? And that actually does lead her to the website, which is a great thing. So there’s no harm in seeing a video. I think it’s what you do with it, but as an initial connection, she’s not going to read it doesn’t matter what I tell her. She’s not interested in reading anything. She wants to read fantasy. She wants to read novels. She doesn’t want to read the information about things that can change her life. But if she sees an interesting video and gets interested, absolutely.

Shishir K Upadhyay, Principal Advisor, University of South California

One point below, sorry. 

So I want to highlight here, is that how you are using social media? Are you using social media to engage the audience? Or are you using it for information dissemination? And, if you’re using it for information dissemination, amazing, you can involve your alums, you can involve your current students, you can put some marketing messages across, but if you’re looking to engage, you need to have someone who’s engaging them, otherwise the situation will become like a case study, I started during my MBA, there was a case study called United Breaks Guitars. So, on United Airlines, there was a case by a musician whose guitar was broken. And they have posted on social media. And there was a huge feud regarding United Airlines not doing proper jobs of handling people’s luggage. And there were no proper responses from United Airways at that point of time. And that created a huge backlash. So if someone is using it for student engagement, that has to be moderated. If it’s being used as information dissemination, great. And third party information dissemination will have more value than marketing messages by the University.

Chitra Jain, Recruitment & Marketing Advisor, University of Southern California, Viterbi School Of Engineering

Hello, Ritika. I would like to add on. 

I’m going to speak as I myself was an international student in 2021, in Canada, and I’m a digital marketer. I’m marketing for USC. So I’m going to talk about both the perspective as a digital marketer, and as a student. 

Well, social media definitely impacts us. I myself went online, and on Instagram and everywhere, and I did a lot of research about the campus. How’s the student life? What are the alumni speaking? But that was not the final thing for me. That was just an attraction for me, the images and everything. But my decision was based on the website, I went to the website and  how the college people were communicating with me. And there were a lot of other factors. I interacted with a lot of students, they’re like 2021/ 23, all kinds of age background students, and they all do their research very well these days. And it’s a mixture of both social media also impacts them, definitely. But how the university responds to them, and contact, work with them together, also plays a major factor in their decision factor.

Ritika Singh

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for participating. 

I’m going to draw your attention to the report once again, with the findings of the 10,000 voices, we’ve mapped it to the sustainable development goals that the UN has announced. So I’m going to remind you, when you’re looking at the data facts, please bear that in mind. 

Now talking about the impact of SDGs, and the causes, and the social causes and academics is and the career choices that students make. I’d like to hear from the panel when you’re engaging with those young minds, how aware they are, how much importance and impact your conversations have on the SDGs, while engaging with them about university choices. We’re going to start from here this time.

Sonu Hemani, Senior Partnerships Officer, King’s College

I think when it comes to SDG’s and students career choices, I would like to first throw some information about the UK, UK ranks third, as per the Scopus outputs, the number of research outputs that that that UK produces, we ranked number third, and the Deloitte Global Report in 2022 survey shows that both Generation Z as well as millennials, they are very concerned about the climate change, and they are investing heavily into environmentally sustainable choices. 

This means that, while they are making career choices, or even the course choices, they are very much focused on the SDGs, especially around climate change. So I think a lot of universities are also offering others, they’re offering newer courses in those areas, or they are involving students, and all students are taking initiatives in making sure that universities work towards those sustainable development goals. So it could be that  doing some kind of awareness programme, or doing any kind of workshops, or even our student run community, I think these are some of the things that students are looking forward to, and I think in the UK, we have a very good support system for students. Whether they are looking for any kind of support Academy weekly, or even non academic, academically, it is all available for them, within the university, and I think in the UK takes pride in providing those kinds of support to the students. 

So that’s from my perspective from the UK.

Shishir K Upadhyay, Principal Advisor, University of South California

So awareness about SDG, I think it’s increasing, my daughter is in class fourth, and she was talking to me that he in my school students are in faculty are talking about SDGs.

There is a lot of talk regarding SDG’s, but what people are doing with them, and if you look at SDGs, if you see all the goals that are there, I don’t think there is any sphere of study or any sphere of university operation that is alien from SDGs. It’s about involving students, faculty, or corporate industries, and politicians in the whole process, and ensuring that we are coming with actionable items, and how those actions are going to affect everyone. 

If you see India itself, in recent years, look at diesel cars and gasoline cars, how they are on the verge where they will not be operational in the coming 1520 years, the pace of adoption of electric cars has increased many fold. I still remember 15 years ago, I used to think what would happen if we ran out of gasoline, would we start using horses? But no, the industry and everyone found a solution for that. And think about chlorofluorocarbons,there was an ozone hole. And then refrigeration was a big challenge in how the refrigeration industry will work. But they found a solution. There is a need for research collaboration, whether it will be university specific. I don’t think so, there has to be a collaborative approach. And that collaborative approach will involve not only universities, but as I mentioned, various other stakeholders.

Vinita Nilesh Desai, Senior Recruitment Advisor, University of Auckland

When I take that I could go on for a very long time to talk about sustainability at New Zealand because New Zealand, obviously, our leaders for renewable in the space of renewable energy, and I don’t really want to talk much about sustainability at New Zealand, because we’re conscious of time as well here at this point of time. 

But it’s very important that I mentioned that the University of Auckland has been extremely proud in the past few years, in 2019 2024, having ranked number one, the Times Higher Education, University impact rankings for its contributions in the space of sustainability through law, teaching, learning and research. And I think this comes from the all government policy that the New Zealand Government has towards sustainability. In fact, it’s been a part of their trade policy to emphasise sustainability and inclusive growth, bringing the indigenous communities to work towards environmental protection as well. And having said so we’re not just so you can obviously see that it’s a reflection of the national policy, and everything that they do around is working towards sustainability. 

But what’s more interesting is we haven’t stopped our endeavours at New Zealand, we are actually extending our wings and spreading them through to different countries to create sustainable communities. And I would really like to mention two important projects that we’ve done as a part of University of Auckland, both for the UG and PG students. There have been some really interesting findings. I have actually mentioned this, that the Indian universities are doing amazingly well in the space of sustainability as well. So in that way, I think in our endeavour, we are trying to create sustainable communities and spread sustainability in our own ways. 

Thank you. Thank you.

Ritu Sharma, Senior Regional Advisor, Victoria University

I think in the Australian space, it’s pretty similar to New Zealand, we are sisters together. 

From a recruitment perspective, I think one change which I have witnessed is that there are a lot of students these days, asking for courses related to environment, water management, and water protection, which was not the case pre-pandemic a few years back. So I think, from a larger country perspective to the student demand as well, things are moving in the space very rapidly. We just have to watch the space and follow it as quickly as we can.

Ritika Singh

Thank you very much. I think we’re on the hour, so I’m not going to take any more of your time. 

Thank you very much for sharing your perspective and thank you for being a lovely audience who have been able to interact with us.

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 celebrations. This 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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