Regional differences in recruitment, trends, and insights pan South Asia

With Moderator Haike Manning, Executive Director, South east Asia, Acumen


  1. Rohil Kapoor, Senior Recruitment Adviser (University of Nottingham) (confirmed)
  2. Harkirat Singh Sahni, Recruitment Adviser (University of Westminster) (confirmed)
  3. Madhu Sharma, Regional Recruitment Adviser, University of Salford (confirmed)
  4. Mishi Sardana, Regional Adviser South Asia, Queen Mary University of London (confirmed)

Today the panel takes a deep dive into the diverse tapestry of South Asia’s educational landscape. Join them as they explore regional nuances, trends, and recruitment insights that define one of the most dynamic and rapidly evolving regions in the world.

South Asia is a melting pot of cultures, languages, and traditions, and has long been a focal point for higher education. The nations within this region each bring a unique flavour to the educational experience. From the bustling streets of Mumbai to the serene campuses of Sri Jayewardenepura, the South Asian educational ecosystem is as diverse as the communities it serves.

Gain valuable insights into the evolving trends in South Asian higher education, from the surge in STEM programmes to the burgeoning demand for online and hybrid learning. Also under the microscope will be the critical role of international collaborations, partnerships, and cultural sensitivities that can make or break an institution’s success in South Asia.

Five Key Takeaways

  1. Diverse Preferences Across South Asia: The South Asian region is not homogenous, and students from different countries within the region have diverse preferences and priorities. Understanding these nuances is vital for successful recruitment. For instance, while Indian students often seek STEM programmes abroad, students from Sri Lanka may prioritise fields like medicine and hospitality.
  2. Regulatory Challenges: Navigating the regulatory landscape in South Asian countries can be complex, with varying requirements for foreign institutions. Institutions need to invest time and resources in understanding and complying with local regulations, making partnerships with local educational bodies essential.
  3. Digital Transformation: The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of online and hybrid learning models across South Asia. There is a growing demand for flexible and technology enhanced education, presenting opportunities for institutions to offer innovative programmes and adapt to the changing needs of South Asian students.
  4. Importance of Cultural Sensitivity: Cultural awareness and sensitivity play a crucial role in recruitment success. Acknowledging and respecting cultural differences, traditions, and expectations are essential for building trust and strong relationships with South Asian students and their families.

Collaboration and Partnerships: Collaborations with local universities, government agencies, and educational organisations are key to expanding a university’s presence and reach in South Asia. These partnerships not only facilitate recruitment but also enhance research opportunities, faculty exchanges, and the overall quality of education in the region.

Below is the transcript

Haike Manning

Good morning, everyone. 

My name is Haike Manning. As you probably know by now, I’m Acumen’s Executive Director for Sannam S4, for Acumen for South East Asia. 

Most of you now also know that I have a strong history and connection to India. I lived here for three years, about 20 years ago. And it’s fantastic to always come back and to see the energy I remembered from my time, here from 20 years ago, is here in spades. And so many changes for the positive as well. 

Just before I introduce our panellists today, I actually just wanted to acknowledge the remarks that we just heard from Ganesh Ganesh Kohli. I think, you know, some of the ideas that he was talking about were humanistic rather than a mechanistic approach to recruitment. And this idea of taking a step back from this core idea of recruitment, and thinking about how you can empower the students through your activities. And maybe that’s something we might touch on today as part of this panel a little bit as well. 

So we are running a little bit behind schedule today, and I appreciate it, and at some point, I’m sure you’ll get some coffee. But in the meantime, I did want to introduce our panellists, and this is a real pleasure for me, because these guys are our we’re very proud of our staff, our in-country representatives, and we’ve got four very fine specimens here today. So I’m going to introduce them just with a little personal flavour as well. 

So firstly, we have Rohil Kapoor who’s Senior recruitment advisor, supporting University of Nottingham. 

Round of applause for Rohil Okay, so Rohil has been with us for Acumen for two years. He is a proud UK Alumni from work. And one small interesting thing about him is that he loves board games, and particularly Risk, strategy board games. Okay, so there you go. 

We have Madhu Sharma, regional recruitment advisor supporting University of Salford round of applause please. So, Madhu is based in Mumbai. She has been supporting Salford for around eight years now, I think. And she’s got a really interesting background, I reckon. So not only is she a STEM graduate in chemistry, she also does aerial yoga. I’m not sure what aerial yoga is, but it sounds quite high risk. She tells me it’s not, okay. 

Thirdly, we have Harkirat Singh Sahni, unfortunately to his friends. He’s known as HK, which makes it much easier for me as well. Thank you. So H K is a recruitment advisor supporting University of Westminster, please put your hands together for HK. He supports Westminster in the efforts across South Asia, including Bangladesh and Nepal. And he’s a foodie. And does that mean consuming or cooking? Consuming? Okay. All right. Very sensible. Good. 

And last, but certainly not least, we have Mishi Sardana, regional advisor, South Asia supporting Queen Mary, University of London, round of applause, please. With responsibility for North and South India, as well as Sri Lanka. And she’s a big fan of movies. Who isn’t? I’m also a big fan of movies. 

So anyway, welcome. And it’s great to have you all here today. 

We’re going to talk a little bit about regional differences in recruitment, trends and insights, Pan South Asia. And I’m going to ask you a few more practical questions today. So yesterday was very much around a high level kind of strategic perspective on the market and what’s happening here in India. And I wanted to use the session to get a little bit more into the practicalities of what’s happening on the ground. And if we have a little bit of time, I can’t resist this because I’m Executive Director for South East Asia, I may just add in a few observations and comparisons with what we’re seeing there as well. I will also put a couple of questions to you guys as the audience as well as we go through. But without further ado, I’m going to start off and I’m going to put a few questions to the panel to get us started. 

My first question to the panel, and maybe we can start with Rohil and move down is a question around where? So where is the focus of your recruitment activity? And why? Why are you focused in those areas? And has there been a shift and your focus in recent years. Rohill over to you.

Rohil Kapoor, Senior Recruitment Adviser (University of Nottingham)

I think over the last few years, our main focus, in terms of markets, has been a volume market, or diversity market and an emerging market. So India, we’ve termed it as a volume market, just like China, because we get a lot of applications from that. And Bangladesh overall, would be a diversity market, where you can clearly identify where a particular subject area has a high number of applications. 

So over the last, five, six years, we were very traditional in terms of our approach, and we were working with, let’s say, two or three global agents, and a few boutique agents. So a major change that we have brought in is that we’ve expanded our overall agent portfolio. So focusing on agents who have a regional strength. Slowly, I think that has really helped us in increasing numbers from not particular areas, but also tier two and tier three. And I think a major regional shift for us has been a little bit of a challenge in terms of recruiting the not so popular courses, like engineering and biosciences. And for that, what we’ve done is we’ve added a couple of more in-country personnel in India. We have a person in Bangalore now to focus on the southern region, which I think really helps out in knowing the local language, communicating, and I think building a better relationship also with agents. So yeah, I think for now, this is something that we’ve really focused on.

Haike Manning

Thanks very much. 

It’s a good interesting distinction when we talk about your diversity versus volume and finding diversity, we market it either within India itself or within South Asia. 

Let’s just go across the I handed over to Madhu.

Madhu Sharma, Regional Recruitment Adviser, University of Salford 

So I’m here to talk about Sri Lanka.

I think it’s important that we understand the study, the education system out there, because my challenge with Sri Lanka was when I started looking after the country, was to understand how the education system is there, right after 12 years of age. So since they are only about 15 state universities, not all the students go through that. So they have about more than 100 institutes or you can say private universities. And TNE is quite popular in Sri Lanka. 

A lot of students because they don’t get to the state universities, they actually opt for the local, private universities which they have a tie up with. They might be doing, you know, some course with a UK university and being at home, they would complete their graduation. 

Subject wise, I would say earlier, I could see that they were more focused on business or accounting, but now they are diversifying to IT,even teaching is something that I’m getting inquiries about. 

As per the region in Sri Lanka, of course, it’s quite small compared to India. So earlier, we used to do a lot of visits focusing more on Colombo. But this year, I also did an event in Kandy, which we had a very good turnout at. There are some of our agents who have already either opened the office and Kandy or they are planning to open one. 

Harkirat Singh Sahni, Recruitment Adviser (University of Westminster) 

Perfect. Thank you, Madhu. 

I’ll be talking about the Bangladesh market. 

So Bangladesh does have a number of regions within it. Dhaka, of course, being the capital region, does attract a large number of students. So that does tend to be our area of focus, as well, just in terms of reaching out to numbers, when we’re looking at students. There are a good number of agents on the ground. 

Sometimes it tends to be too many. So that’s why we don’t work with many, we tend to work with only the major players where we are very sure about the quality of the applications and particularly in terms of how students can speak English because in their local board, Bangla is a big stress. I mean, they do emphasise a lot upon their local language. I mean, that was one of the major predominant factors in the inception of Bangladesh as well as a majority Bangla speaking nation and region. So we do need to be careful in that regard. 

There are a lot of sub Asians, that is a prevalent model over there. So we, we know that on the ground, I mean, it is something like even the major players are involved with, but in terms of us, as in-country representatives, there’s a greater need to be more firm in terms of what we want to communicate and what kinds of students we want, and what are the kinds of practices we want to be happening on ground. 

As a market, like in Bangladesh, and even like other Asian markets like Pakistan, where the sub Asian models do kind of have a prevalence, it is important to monitor that to a great extent. We’ve also started to see a number of applications from other regions Now, apart from Dhaka, which was predominantly the largest market. So other areas like Chittagong, Sylhet and Rajshahi. Now we’re seeing a lot of students from those regions, which is a welcome addition, in terms of getting diversity on board, I think that is a focus for a lot of our universities, as international universities. And that does add to the student experience. But at the same time, again, there are certain factors we need to be careful about, we need to look into more in a detailed manner. Because, like regions like Sylhet, in the past, like we’ve heard from the home office, that a larger number of students who have actually stayed back in Bangladesh, and seek asylum after their studies, it’s been observed that it’s coming from this particular region. 

So now when I communicate with my partner network over there, I make sure there is no distinguishing between the regions or the students because we are an equal opportunities university. But there are stricter steps that are followed at the partner network, and they will make sure that all the eligibility is clearly met. And there is just more things that we look at in terms of documentation and that everything is in place.

Haike Manning

Thanks. Thanks HK, I think there’s some really interesting observations in there as well, which we might come back to as well around, obviously, you know, looking outside of Dhaka, some of the language issues as well, so very interesting stuff. Mishi.

Mishi Sardana, Regional Adviser South Asia, Queen Mary University of London

Thank you, thank you HK, and it’s a pleasure to be on this panel. 

So in terms of focus for Queen Mary, being where the graduate route was announced, PG recruitment has somehow been almost on autopilot. Our focus is also towards undergrad recruitment, post pandemic, we saw that a lot of students are still wanting to use hybrid counselling. So we try to help students through hybrid interaction as well. We are noticing that there is a rise in students from tier three and the satellite cities who are more eager to come to the UK and want to have a better future. So our focus is also around tier two, tier three. We’ve not reached here yet, but that is part of our strategy to reach tier four as well. Thank you.

Haike Manning

Thanks. Yeah. And actually, that’s really interesting, because, you know, that was something that Ganesh talked about as well, in terms of, there’s obviously certain schools and certain areas and tier one cities that are extremely well covered and saturated in many cases, but a lot of other places which are relatively untouched. 

And so I did want to just put a quick question to each of you in terms of the respective areas and regions that you’re focused on, whether you are actually getting into what we call tier three tier four cities now. Rohil

Rohil Kapoor, Senior Recruitment Adviser (University of Nottingham)

You mean in terms of the focus that we have? 

Haike Manning


Rohil Kapoor, Senior Recruitment Adviser (University of Nottingham)

So we have started doing that. I think specifically for the University of Nottingham. I think. Lucknow has done really well. I never expected students to come from a city like Lucknow, but since we’ve noticed that interest, I think, so it reciprocates now we’ve started paying more attention. We’ve started investing more in terms of the fairs. I think that’s also an overall strategy that you plan initially: where are we going to spend most of our time and I think that’s something that we’ve been able to do. 

We are exploring newer cities like Vizag and Coimbatore. For a long period of time, we were only two members in India. I think with that expansion, it has given us the opportunity to really explore the cities as well. 

For now, yes, postgraduate recruitment has been good, but our focus would be to recruit for the not so popular courses from these tier two and tier three cities and get that competitive advantage. So I have been, I’ve studied at Warwick and I think one thing Warwick did was get that competitive advantage. I think if universities can do that in tier two, and tier three, it really helps because tier two and tier three work on word of mouth. So if you can get that competitive advantage, I think overall, in the next five to six years, it really helps you out. 

Haike Manning

Fantastic, Madhu

Madhu Sharma, Regional Recruitment Adviser, University of Salford

So I didn’t. Yeah.

Haike Manning

The acoustics were struggling with the acoustics a little bit up here away. But you can hear us loud and clear? Let me just speak very slowly. So the question was about tier two or tier three, tier four cities and the extent to which you’re exploring those as part of your recruitment strategy.

Madhu Sharma, Regional Recruitment Adviser, University of Salford

So since I look after pan India, I can comment on this, we do get to actually get a good number of students from Coimbatore. And even I have done quite a few Institute visits and going because I think Mr. Ganesh was just mentioning that. It’s actually like, you can see a second education hub in India. And yes, there are places that we’ve not yet explored, we don’t think that, oh, we might get students from here, but I see a lot of potential there. And we’ve got students who, when I look at the database, we have students from very smaller interior regions. Even in Maharashtra and the like, I can remember of one case, the student went for aeronautical engineering studies with us as an undergrad programme. And after him the next day, he had about two or three of his friends joining from the same Institute. So I think that it’s all on how much you would go out and reach out and at least, you know, try it out and the undergrad market is quite different, you have to visit the institute’s consistently for at least two or three years. And then I can look at conversions.

Thank you.

Harkirat Singh Sahni, Recruitment Adviser (University of Westminster) 

So in terms of recruitment at the moment, like PSW, in the UK, it is a problem of plenty that we face. We are receiving a huge number of applications. And it is somewhere kind of difficult, to filter out where we want to target and the kind of regions the amount of regions we are able to cover also, because as I mentioned the problem of plenty, how to process so many applications also, and to be fair to our applicants and make sure that everything is coming out on time. 

We’ve had to keep our recruitment activity limited, I mean, balanced between the different places also. But tier three, and tier four cities are still a little bit out of reach at the moment, maybe when the problem of plenty is solved. At that time, these are regions that we’ll be looking at also, to a greater extent. 

I think sometimes it depends on the positioning of the university as well. And you do attract different kinds of students from different regions. So I say Westminster, in particular University of Westminster, we are in central London. And we do get a lot of interest in particular, from the big metropolitans. A lot of students want to stay in central London, and they are well aware about London as a city. And there are certain expectations from there, obviously, when we reach out to the other budding cities and small towns as well, that indeed, that interest does arise as well. 

In terms of Bangladesh, I mean, as I mentioned, Dhaka is the larger market, other regions are picking up in terms of the variety of applications as well. It’s not just in terms of numbers, they are rising, but the kinds of cases have also diversified in the past. I’m receiving applications for a lot of diversified areas in particular, in the past, fashion has really picked up for us from Bangladesh in particular. So again, when we talk about these regions, like the other regions, the pandemic has aided us quite a bit, because we are able to reach out to them much easily like even when I want to connect with my counsellors or if I want to connect with school counsellors in these places, we’re just a call away or we can connect on Zoom earlier in terms of reaching out in terms of logistics, it was not always possible because there are lots of fairs that are happening, there’s so many events. So sometimes it becomes difficult to do everything, although we do want to do that as many times, but we do have to pick and choose some time. So yeah, that’s a glance at it.

Mishi Sardana, Regional Adviser South Asia, Queen Mary University of London

Thank you. 

So like I previously said, the consumers in tier one and tier two, tier one, particularly, or the metropolitan cities are very focused and very well aware. Like Ganesh mentioned previously, the tier three and tier four students don’t necessarily have the accessibility or the means or the awareness. So yes, the focus on tier three cities with the help of technology, has been around areas in the South. Kochi has evolved quite a bit and some parts in the central west.

Haike Manning

Wonderful, thank you. And I think it’s yeah, it’s a really interesting point around technology and the ability to access more easily some of those third tier cities that you might not otherwise be able to get to so easily also frequently. 

It’s really interesting. 

Wonderful. Okay, thanks so much, guys. 

And I think we’re going to wrap up the panel here. But really, really fantastic contributions, really good insights. 

What I hear a lot today is about diversity within subject areas, which is happening, diversity of markets, whether within India or across South Asia. And yeah, a real evolution in terms of the market in terms of maturation. People are looking for different subjects now as well than they were in the past. 

So can you just all please bring your hands together to thank the panel for joining us, you did a great job. 

Thank you very much. And I’ll hand it back to the emcee. Thank you.

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.

Missed the Acumen Global Gateway Summit 2023? Discover what’s in store for 2024»