Trends, insights and research to inform growth and innovation strategies in international higher education.

June 19, 2011

Indian University Admissions: The Crisis of Confidence in Quality

Expansion, growth and access have been the buzzwords for Indian higher education in last five years. However, they all sounds hollow when you hear that some colleges in Delhi University expect 100% marks for admissions. As this cartoon from Manjul shows, "aiming high" has a new standard.

The talent pool aspiring for quality higher education is increasing at a much faster rate than number of institutions with quality. This means that more students with highly competitive academic preparedness are available, however, the institutions with high quality have not increased in the same proportion. According at a recent article in Times of India, number of students with over 95% marks in CBSE (XIIth grade) have shot up from about 1200 last year to over 2100 this year, while the number of undergraduate seats in the University of Delhi roughly the same as last year at 54,000.

Instances like this, question the whole rhetoric that Indian higher education is reforming and expanding access. The reality seems that Indian higher education is regressing as the availability of quality institutions is unable to keep up with supply of talent pool. According to UGC, number of colleges in the India increased by 53% in five years to nearly 26,000 colleges in 2009. If this quantitative expansion of colleges had as significant qualitative element in it then students would have had more confidence in their choices to go beyond the "tried and tested" reputed brands. However, we have a situation of a crisis of confidence and hence many students with high academic ability are aiming for the same set of select few institutions with lowest career risks.

While the private sector has contributed a lot in increasing the access to higher education, it has focused on "money-minting" professional programs in engineering and management and has often done it without much consideration to quality.

This example reiterates the horror stories we have heard from highly selective IIT and IIM admissions that much still needs to be done in terms of instilling quality in Indian higher education and gaining the confidence of prospective students to explore beyond the select few.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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June 11, 2011

Agents for international student recruitment: Have we not learned anything from Australia and the UK?

Australia and the UK have been revered for their best practices and proactiveness in using agents for student recruitment. Then came the "trouble" in international student market in Australia and the UK, resulting in tightening of student visa norms. What's the relationship between tightening of student visa and agents? Many agents enabled "short-cuts" (read document frauds) for students in using education for immigration. (Here is my related post where I argue that a handful of self-proclaimed or certified "good" agents are not the industry.)

At a time when Australia and the UK are tightening the student visa, more students are looking to study abroad and agents are hungry for new destinations beyond their traditional favorite markets. At the same time, American public institutions are looking for more international students to meet their budget cuts. This is a perfect storm for the US higher education and international student recruitment practices. The clear direction is that more American universities are using agents which in turn will lead to more students on the campus but many of these students would have used "short-cuts." The next thing we will see is the situation like Australia and the UK.

Sounds like an ominous opinion? So, here is the evidence:

June 2004, UK cracks student visa scam--"fraud involves producing fake documents claiming immigrants are studying at the Tooting colleges in South London so that they can obtain student visas giving them leave to remain in the UK."

January, 2009, Migration fraud 'rife' in overseas student scams--"...shadowy 'agents' offered fake documents for thousands of dollars to naive young Chinese and Indian students....The scam has worked because international students need documents from the colleges they attend and employers with whom they do work experience before they can apply for permanent residency, which is often what they are most interested in."

March, 2010, School is linked to visa fraud--"More than 80 people have been arrested in connection with a language school here that the government says was a front for the sale of fraudulent applications for student visas."

May, 2010, Bogus students facing global crackdown--"'Unscrupulous' recruitment agents who bring bogus overseas students into the UK are being targeted in an international initiative." (Yes, it happened in 2004 and again in 2009-10!!!)

February, 2011,Tri-Valley University: Agencies or students to blame?--"The big rush for higher education overseas, that many hope would eventually help them immigrate to 'greener pastures', has spurred the growth of number of consultancy firms." Related story. (I think Tri Valley is the classic case of "I take the credit, you take the blame").

May, 2011, China Rush to U.S. Colleges Reveals Predatory Fees for Recruits--"Some of the services provided by agents in China violate ethical standards for college admissions in the U.S. About 90 percent of recommendation letters for Chinese students are fake and 70 percent of essays aren’t written by the applicant, according to the Zinch China report."

These are only a handful of the examples where irregularities and frauds were caught. I am sure there are many more which go undetected. I again, call institutions using agents and "good" agents themselves to come forward and disclose data about student profile and performance.

So, I have stated the problem with using agents. But, then what are the alternatives/solutions? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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June 08, 2011

Indian Vocational and Doctoral Education: Tale of Two Extremes

Indian post-secondary education faces acute problems at two extremes. On the one extreme is the skill-based vocational education and on the other is research-based doctoral education. Both are facing serious quantitative and qualitative challenges in terms of attracting talent, delivering value and meeting the needs of the society.

According to the Ministry of Labour & Employment, 12.8 million people enter labour force annually, however, vocational training capacity is available for only 4.3 million per annum. Further, a report by the World Bank noted that over 60 percent of all graduates of vocational education system in India remained unemployed, even three years after graduation.

Likewise, doctoral education system is struggling with the issue of optimizing quality and quantity. According to the latest official statistics released by UGC, number of PhDs awarded in 2007-08 increased by only 484 as compared to previous year. In the same period, student enrollment in "Graduate" programs (undergraduate/bachelor's programs) increased by nearly 700,000. Despite such a small number of PhD graduates, the concerns of quality and rigor of training of PhDs have been growing.

India needs to addresses these challenges at the two extremes of post-secondary education. In order to address these challenges, five major changes are proposed at societal, policy and institutional levels. These changes are:
  • Recognise the importance of institutional diversity
  • Develop soft and hard infrastructure
  • Create a culture of information for prospective students
  • Collaborate with stakeholders including industry and institutions
  • Focus on quality
The proposed solutions for addressing the challenges with vocational and doctoral education are neither easy nor fast, but they are effective and far-reaching. What are your thoughts?

Here is the detailed article published in EDU magazine:

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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June 01, 2011

Recruitment Agent Debate: Are Institutions Ready for Disclosures?

International student recruitment using agents is evolving into a hot debate in the US. There have been arguments in favor by Mitch Leventhal and AIRC and against the agents by Philip Altbach and Alan Ruby arguing for institutions to be responsible for good behavior. Finally, NACAC proposed to stop double standards of what constitutes best practices in recruiting international and domestic students. In the context of these development, today I also attended an interesting session at NAFSA entitled "Opportunities and Challenges of Working with Education Counseling and Recruitment Agents"  The panelists supported the use of agents for recruiting students.
My take on agency debate is two-fold. First, a small segment of good agents do not make the industry. Second, are institutions and "good" agents ready to provide evidence of their effectiveness?

Segments: The agent debate is about 95% of  unethical and unprofessional agents and not about 5% of good quality of agents.I agree that there is a segment of students which needs information, counseling and support  and since not every university has a cache of Harvard, there are a large number of institutions which also need help. Thus, agents may serve a function of bridging information gap. The challenge is that the majority of the agents are engaged in offering "short-cuts" many times in collusion with students. Thus, by engaging agents, universities are implicitly approving of these short-cuts.

I commented during the session that majority of the agents are minting money by helping students not getting information and advice but by making "short-cuts" possible. These short-cuts include fraudulent degrees and financial documents, canned essays and misrepresentation. What is the evidence to it?  Consider, Tri Valley University, where agents, university and some students knowingly engaged in an unacceptable practice and misrepresentation. Or consider the recent immigration challenges faced by the Australia and the UK which were largely facilitated by agents. Please note, Australia and the UK have been in the business of agents for a while and are considered to have developed "best practices" in agency model and still could not avoid the cases of misrepresentation and falsified information presented by some agents and students in collusion.

The question is how do we know that 5% of good agents are good? How can we avoid 95% of the "bad" agent to be passed off under the name of 5% of good agents?

Disclosures: The solution lies in what Mitch Leventhal responded to my question during the session. He said there is limitation of supporting data about quality of agents and he also said that there is a need to set high standards of transparency. So, I call AIRC and AIRC supporting member (institutions and "good" agents)  to set high standards and role model behavior of disclosing comparative data about students recruited via agents. In other words, disclose profile and performance of students recruited via agents vs. rest of the international students. To make it simple let's start just with GPA in foreign institution, standardized tests scores and first semester GPA in the US (see example). I am very confident that none of the universities will share this data. Why? Because, it will clearly show that students accepted through agency-based model needed too much help (read "short-cuts") to perform as well as all other students on campus.

The reality is universities are facing budget cuts and international students add revenue stream, however, the solution is not "short-cuts", the solution is high degree of disclosure and professional standards, which should start from the universities which are already engaged with agency relationship. As in any the housing bubble, do we want to be part of the process which inflated the bubble or busted it?

What are your thoughts/comments?

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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