Dr Rahul Choudaha, also known across social media and the world as Dr Education, is always at the fore of conversations surrounding international education.
As the co-founder & CEO of DrEducation LLC and interEDGE, his career has been dedicated to learning about, and enriching the international student experience. Here, he talks to us about the importance of recognising the skills gap and the biggest recruitment challenge (outside Trump) facing US institutions.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My time is split between understanding and catching up with news items relating to higher education and international higher education. A bulk of my day goes into talking to people, responding to emails and working on new partnerships, relationships and opportunities that can make our work more far-reaching.
Can you tell me about a new partnership that you’ve set up?
One of things we’ve been working on is with University World News, we do a series of thought leadership sessions with them, where I put together a topic and a set of presenters to engage the right audience on relevant themes and issues.
What are the most popular topics that people want you to discuss? Are there any particular concerns that international education stakeholders are hoping you can help with?
Most of my work relates to international students, institutional strategy, growth and innovation. Institutions continue to be interested in not only growing their student populations, but also diversifying them and improving the quality of their students. Most of my conversations are focused on how to optimise the international student pipeline.
Why did you decide to set up Dr Education.com and interEDGE?
There were two gaps I was seeing [in the sector]. One was information and insights – there was no lack of information about international higher education, but the ability to make sense of that information, and turn it into insights to inform strategy for growth, was lacking. That was the gap I wanted to fill – to take a deeper dive into the information about international education.
The bigger gap was the skills gap. Not only for students themselves, who were coming from different cultures and finding it quite challenging to navigate and succeed in a new environment. But even professionals, administrators and academics were lacking skills and confidence. At interEDGE, we make it our mission to work on bridging the gap in cross-cultural competencies, both for students and for staff so they can maximise their potential.
So with DrEducation, we’re doing consulting and research about higher education information and insights, while with interEDGE, we’re doing training and skills development for staff and students.
Based on your work with InterEDGE, what do you think success looks like, firstly for international students?
For students, success is helping them realise their potential by sharpening their skills and giving them the confidence they need to navigate a new culture.
From your time as Chief Knowledge Officer at World Education Services up to now, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in international student mobility?
There have been two big changes. On one side of the equation, we see a change in where students are coming from. Much has been written about China growth but the interesting thing was when this change was happening, nobody was noticing how big this growth was and how it would impact university campuses. Dramatic growth from China overshadowed pretty much everything else, especially in terms of what international students need. Institutions are now realising they have to diversify their student populations and even diversity within the Chinese student population. Managing those complexities [around growth] is becoming more and more important. What if the China market starts to decline, change or fragment? What is the possibility of responding to it?
The second big thing is regarding the US and its place as a leading destination. Many people want to come here but emerging countries are becoming more aggressive and proactive in trying to recruit international students. What that means is there’s a need to adapt and change the traditional recruitment models and strategies [in US universities]. They have to develop innovative partnerships, innovative transnational education models and experiment with online learning models in order to compete.
Can you give me an example of emerging sources or destinations that maybe aren’t reflected in the global statistics that everyone is familiar with?
One destination is China, where the policy framework is changing to try to attract international students. I’m currently visiting institutions in India and one of the agenda items I’m consulting on is study in India. It’s quite a challenge but there’s definitely a focus on how India can attract international students.
So two of the main source countries are flipping the model and trying to become a destination themselves…
Exactly. Some of these source countries are trying to figure out how they also can become attractive for international students themselves. This has also been talked about in the context of Singapore and the Gulf region.
Have you seen any noticeable shifts in student mobility in the country over the past few years? And what trends do you see emerging for the US over the coming year?
The US remains a strong market for students with aspirations to study abroad. At this point in time, there’s still very strong demand. The troublesome point is that most of the growth in international students in the country is going to 50 institutions. They are forming a strong pull of international students. Such a high concentration of international students in a small number of institutions could be detrimental to the institution and the students themselves in terms of their own international experience.
What are these 50 institutions doing to attract these students and how is that trend being perpetuated?
These institutions don’t recruit, they don’t have to go out and look for students. They have much higher demand than international student spaces. These institutions include NYU, UCLA and Arizona State University – Tempe. They’re offering a lot more new programmes that are attracting the students.
What do you think are the main things that universities, governments, higher ed organisations need to do to improve the international student experience?
I think there are two broad categories. One is what happens in the classroom and the quality of the faculty and the learning experience itself. Learning experiences outside the classroom, those that are non-academic and extracurricular, can also have quite an impact. All these things can make a big difference in what students perceive, feel and take away from their studies. Often that is underestimated by many institutions who think that their reputation and rankings are sufficient for a satisfactory student experience.