Participating in education fairs has helped Gitam University make a name for itself in rural Andhra Pradesh and across neighbouring states
Increasing India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio from the current 19% to 30% by 2020 needs many more students from smaller towns to enrol for higher education. To a large extent, boosting such enrolments in turn depends on creating greater awareness among prospective students about the programmes on offer in cities and helping them gain admission to these courses.
The 5WH in brief
Who: Professor K Narendra, Director, Admissions, Gitam University, Vishakapatnam
What: Spearheads Gitam University’s marketing outreach activities
When: Since 2010
Why: To enhance the reach of the university
Where: In Andhra Pradesh and in neighbouring and nearby states such as Telangana, West Bengal, Karnataka, Odisha, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand
How: By identifying suitable education fairs to participate in and developing a comprehensive marketing and communication strategy.
Reaching out to prospective students in smaller towns is extremely challenging. “Creating an outreach programme of ones own is an expensive proposition. But as those students are highly unlikely to visit cities to look for possible colleges, it is up to institutions to make the effort to expand their catchment areas. Any attempt to push admissions for undergraduate courses in semi-rural areas must target both students and their parents because our experience shows that parents are the decision- makers up to class XII, thereafter students decide but are heavily influenced by parents, relatives and friends. Also, these interactions must be conducted in their native language, not in English. They actually ask you to explain in their language, says Professor K Narendra, Director, Admissions, Gitam University.
Education fairs are the ideal occasion for prospective students to get familiar with the offerings of several universities and colleges, and move towards making informed choices. As also, educational institutions can reach out to more students by participating in education fairs—provided they choose the right ones. Here is how Gitam University is making the most of this outreach channel:
SET A BUDGET: GITAM University’s annual marketing budget is `10 crore for both its undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. According to Professor Narendra, “Close to 80% of this outlay is spent on print advertisements. About one tenth of the budget is spent on education fairs, another 8% on radio campaigns and 2% on online campaigns.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: One of the top criterions that can help institutions decide if an education fair is worth participating in is its location. “A lot depends on where the education fair is being conducted. We analyse past admissions to figure out the financial standing of students in different areas. We focus on areas where we know students can afford our programmes and apply for them,” explains Professor Narendra.
The presence of competitor institutions in a certain place impacts this decision as well—“If the local colleges or university are renowned, fewer students are likely to consider venturing out for higher studies, and hence the potentials for Gitam University will be less. The idea is to tap less served areas—unless we believe we are superior to the existing local choices,” he says.
Since education fairs must be marketed well to be successful, which mandates a mass marketing medium, the team also considers the circulation figures of local newspapers. For example, low literacy rates in Odisha curtail the circulation of popular local newspapers to 5 lakh copies. In Andhra Pradesh, well read local newspapers print 20 lakh copies whereas West Bengal’s Anand Bazar Patrika prints around 30 lakh copies. “Mass marketing can fail if the newspaper medium does not have a decent circulation number,” adds the professor.
Location is also important from the perspective of the local student strength and pass percentages. Professor Narendra explains further—“In some states like Odisha, enrolments in class 12 and at the graduate level are very low in many cities, and their pass percentages are low too. This limits the number of potential students for Gitam University and the possibility of engaging with the student community.”
TIMING IS CRITICAL: There’s no point in participating in an education fair held during exam times or prior to the declaration of class 12 or graduate level results. Professor Narendra believes better outcomes can be obtained if the event is held when the results are expected or just after they are released.
MATCH THE FAIR FOCUS WITH YOUR OFFERINGS: As importantly, Gitam University analyses past admissions to determine the programme preferences of students hailing from different areas. Accordingly, it participates in education fairs matching this demand. Professor Narendra explains the reasoning—“Analysis of current demand tells us that the greatest potential for our MBA programme lies in major towns in
Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. So we participated in Edu Expo 2014 in January 2014, which spanned 13 towns in Andhra Pradesh. We would not have participated in a similar event held in Karnataka.”
The university team has identified Andhra Pradesh as its target area for its engineering programmes; Hyderabad, Patna, Guwahati and towns across West Bengal and Karnataka as its focus area for its law programmes; andOdisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh for its Master in Science programmes.
FOCUS ON BUILDING BONDS: A long term view on marketing pays richer dividends. Professor Narendra believes institutions should refrain from fixating on targets—the number of students to interact with, the number of spot admissions to offer, and so on. “In today’s competitive higher education market, offering face-to-face counselling is as important as offering on-the-spot admissions. Repeatedly participating in fairs in a certain place builds a bond with local educationists and prospective students, and improves the image of the institution.
We look to education fairs as a medium to reach out to more students less expensively. We market to increase visibility and build recognition over the long term,” he says. Since the costs of organising the event are split over several participants, and fairs can attract a large number of students to one venue, such participation helps institutions get more value for their marketing spend.
CARRY SUFFICIENT MARKETING COLLATERALS: Faculty attending education fairs must carry sufficient supplies of collaterals for each of the programmes they market. “We distribute booklets containing information about the various programmes we offer, university facilities and also employment opportunities. Sometimes, we also distribute useful gift articles such as pens, table calendars and bags bearing the university logo, which help disseminate awareness about the brand,” shares Professor Narendra.
FOLLOW UP THE EVENT: Gitam University’s experience shows that most students who interact with faculty at education fairs defer their decision-making for later. “They don’t commit to join any institution. They simply shop for information and collate contacts,” says the head of admissions. These leads must be followed up at the individual and collective level. He explains how—“We register the names of students who express an interest in knowing more about our university or in studying at Gitam. We stay in touch with these prospectives. Overall, the level of interest evinced by students from a particular area during the fair helps us gauge our potential in that location. Depending on how we read our prospects, we release timely print ads in local newspapers to attract students.”
Stepping up admissions
During the 2014-15 academic year Gitam University enrolled around 200 students out a total intake of 6000 as a result of participating in education fairs in Jamshedpur, Patna, Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Bengaluru. Last years corresponding figures were 150 students out of 5750.
What’s more, such participation has helped Gitam University better understand its potential student base. “We now know their interests, their affordability and their perspective on studying in universities outside their state,” says the head of admissions.
Micro level information is essential for successful marketing. Not only is it vital to make the most of education fairs, but such participation provides university staff with the opportunity to collate the latest data