Inside the rise of edtech startups facilitating foreign education for Indian students

In 2019, 770,000 Indians moved abroad to pursue their education. This wasn’t deterred even by the coronavirus pandemic, as students chose to continue in a virtual or hybrid mode. And edtech startups are capitalising on this trend.
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Data suggests that India is the second-largest supplier of foreign students, second only to China.

While the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) reported that 261,406 Indian students studied abroad in 2020, almost half of what it was in 2019 (588,931), MEA accounted it to a result of the ongoing pandemic.

Consulting firm RedSeer predicted that this number may reach 2 million by 2024.

“Even during the pandemic, many students chose to continue with their study abroad plans via a virtual or hybrid medium while the rest deferred their plans for the next intake. Students' queries are increasing at a much higher rate every year, and we are overwhelmed to see this,” Piyush Kumar, Regional Director (South Asia), IDP Education, tells YourStory.

Benefits galore

Increased awareness about the benefits of studying abroad, upward income mobility in Indian households, gaps in India’s education infrastructure, and high standards of living abroad are some of the primary factors why the number of students going abroad has increased over the years.

“People dream of better economic opportunities, what they want to do with their careers, and wanting more, and the pandemic has pushed that even further. When people had more limits and more constraints in terms of what they can do, they started to dream more,” says Priyanka Nishar, Co-founder and Managing Director, Azent Overseas Education.

Azent is a tech-based overseas education advisory that was founded by Atul Nishar, Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Hexaware Technologies and Aptech, and Priyanka Nishar, former Associate Director of Admission and Marketing, NYU.

Top countries seeing an intake of Indian students include Canada, the US, and the UK for science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and business and management courses.

“India is a hyper-competitive country and students here, if given the opportunity to get a higher education, do not lack the academic aptitude. If one sees how hyper-competitive India is versus the number of seats, parents seem to have no choice but to send their kids abroad,” explains Eela Dubey, Co-founder, EduFund India.

“The second reason is that there are a lot of global opportunities available for students abroad. Especially in the context of North America, students are given experience outside of the academic framework like internships and research opportunities. Canada gives co-op opportunities for STEM and other technical degrees where you get to work for three to four months,” she adds.

EduFund is an investment advisory app that focuses purely on higher education. The platform features a college calculator that helps one comprehend the cost of education in due time, considering factors such as inflation, currency, and accommodation expense of any educational organisation in different countries.

In August 2021, the US Embassy announced that they approved a record number of Indian student visas despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The US continues to remain an important destination for Indian students with over 200,000 Indian students currently enrolled in various courses in US institutions, according to MEA data.

In 2021, India became the top source of foreign students with 230,000 Indian students studying in Canada. India is also Australia’s largest source of international students.

Australia and Canada are two of the 28 countries covered under the scheme for promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration, an initiative aimed at improving research ecosystems in India’s higher education institutions.

“Large metropolitan cities across the globe like London, New York, Toronto, Melbourne, and Paris, have a blended culture. Students in these cities get to learn from a diversity of people. This means not just locals but also immigrants, which is not necessarily the case in big metros in India,” says Eela.

At present, about 10,000 Indian students are pursuing various courses in France. The two countries have set themselves the target of doubling this number by 2025, according to reports by MEA. More than 25,000 Indian students are currently studying in Germany.

Rise of a new type of startups

As the number of students going abroad increases, the startups in this space are growing in number too.

“A lot of startups are now seeing an opportunity to disrupt the market and to disrupt the business model which the unorganised individual players have,” says Piyush.

These startups are using technology to provide guidance and counselling to students abroad while also helping them with the application process. Then, there are ed-fintech startups that help students raise funds to pay for education abroad.

India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) reckons that India is on its way to becoming the edtech capital of the world. And startups that enable students to study overseas are also seeing exponential growth.

“This is a space that has had individual players in it and so many for a long time. It is a disorganised sector and with that is the opportunity to become the trusted advisor and partner to students to help them achieve this goal,” says Priyanka.

“The market is up for grabs. There are thousands of students that go abroad every year, so there is opportunity. In addition to that, the end goal for startups in the space would also be to expand to other emerging markets, and if you look at the number of students that travel from the emerging world to the developed world, there is huge potential in that space in terms of mobility,” she adds.

EduFund, Azent, Collegify, ForeignAdmits, Leverage Edu, Yocket, Talentedge, Leap, AdmitKard, and Edumpus are just a few startups that have entered this space.

“The startups in this space are focused on discoverability. Earlier, students had to rely mainly on just one or two websites, and had to visit each school’s website separately to gather the data. The other option was to go to an individual consultant who would only know about 10-12 schools or programs,” explains Karunn Kandoi, General Manager, ApplyBoard India.

“But now with the tech that has been developed, discoverability has become much easier,” he adds.

ApplyBoard is an AI-powered international student recruitment platform with a presence in 25 countries including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

The RedSeer report also expects Indian students’ abroad spending to grow from current annual $28 billion to $80 billion by 2024.

And startups helping these students are also raising significant funding. For instance, Leap raised $55 million late last year while AdmitKard raised $13.27 million in July 2021.

More and more startups in the space are also raising seed rounds. EduFund raised $1 million earlier this year, Leverage Edu, and ForeignAdmits also raised funds late last year.

With borders opening up, Indian students are already gearing up to leave the nest.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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