As I tap into my notebook onboard the flight back to India, I can’t help but reflect on how the education “trade” has evolved over the last 2.5 decades. From being a non-business to becoming clearly a market driven and marketing focussed industry with a wide range of unimaginable ancillary business ranging from those running study tours, recruitment fairs, gap year programs to those who are into finding accommodation and even those who help students get tax refunds. For any with anything to do with education as an industry, a visit to the NAFSA annual conference is a must-do. I wonder why I took so long to attend one myself.
Meeting with colleagues from all over and from across many educational institutions was my first goal and I must admit that I was only partly satisfied in this. I may have over-expected as was hoping to see some of the better ranked US institutions but clearly they had better things to do than attend the event. It may also be entirely possible and probable that most US institutions are continuing to live in a world that believes that education is not a trade. Honestly, most are struggling with funds too or are lost in their idealism. The arguments pertaining to use of education middle-men too is often interpreted variously in USA.
My involvement at the conference had to do with two agent regulating associations and I continue to believe that both can gain from a closer intelligence share between them.
AIRC (American International Recruitment Council) took birth several years ago and I must confess (a little immodestly) that I have had a role to play in that. My company was chosen as the first agency for the pilot and even prior to that, I have been on committees and involved in brainstorming sessions leading to the formation. However, I have not been too actively involved in recent years apart from being a member. This has to do with slightly reduced US focus within my company and also my lethargy + dislike for long tiring travels. I wish I had not dithered from my active role though as I find that in recent years several low-morals agencies have found a way into the body from the sub-continent. I know these agencies first hand and also from my involvement with AAERI and they have managed to fool the membership criterion of AIRC by dressing the documents. However, I believe that this is part of the evolution of any body and hopefully with my inputs from the session this year, AIRC will take some precautions in the future.
AAERI (Association of Australian Education Representatives in India) took a booth to brand and highlight the role of AAERI. The stand was right opposite the section reserved for the Australian providers and I believe that it was the right thing to do in AAERI’s 20th year. Several Education providers appreciated the branding effort and the fact that the booth was handing out a list of its members and its code of ethics. What was more interesting was that there were US Universities seeking out the AAERI member list as a guide to the agents that they may appoint in the Indian market. I also found a greater appreciation for Australian Education providers and the way they deal with commission based recruitment including monitoring the appointed education representatives especially in South Asia.
There are a few times when an Indian simply feels proud in a foreign land. While in Australia, that happens when we go out to cheer for the Indian cricket team especially when it wins a game. Each time that we see the tri-colour and when we hear the Jana-Gana-Mana being sung. A similar feeling, I got when I saw the well-presented “India” section at the NAFSA. Well done Maheshwar Peri and the Careers-360 team… I would only hope that next year, there will be some more prominent Indian institutions participating at the event. It is not a recruitment fair alone and thus the institutions have a lot to gain through such participation.
Apart from the various observations and experiences that I take back with me, it was a personal joy to catch up with Sushil, my partner-in-crime from University days to the initial years of the business when we actually partnered.
It is important for me to document here briefly on how my initiation in this industry took place and why I credit Sushil in equal measure.
GLOBAL REACH traces its root to on-campus discussions between three MBA students at Bond University in Australia. Returning to India, as the first set of alumni for a new University, they identified an opportunity for applying learnt marketing education: Representing overseas educational institutions at a time when the Indian Economy was about to embrace globalisation. One of the three is myself as Managing Director of Global Reach. Of the other two, Mr Sushil Sukhwani and Mr Shiv Kumar, Mr Sukhwani went on to establish Nivea International that later changed its name to Edwise International, another leading education agency, headquartered in Mumbai.
That was in 1991.
Seeing two prominent education agencies introduce their next generation in their businesses through attendance at their stalls was very satisfying. This was an evidence that what was a mere experiment in 90s without any certainty for it developing into an industry by itself, has established itself and has a future beyond the 2.5 decades. The next generation appeared to be well educated (or currently gaining academic credentials) and also being gradually trained.
The view of Mount Rainier this morning as I approached Seattle after heading out of Denver enroute to India…