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Rahul Choudaha, Dr. Education: 'Introspect and think long term'

Read our interview with Dr. Rahul Choudaha, an international higher education expert who studied abroad in America himself. He currently works at World Education Services, while blogging under the name Dr Education.

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Hi Rahul, you studied your PhD in Denver, Colorado. Tell us about your experience.

‘I earned my PhD in Higher Education from Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver in Colorado. It was quite an exhilarating experience. In fact, at DU, I didn’t just earn my doctorate, but it shaped my identity and worldview.

Coming from a small business family in India, I pursued a social-norm-driven path of earning degrees in engineering (undergraduate) and management (graduate), without thinking whether I like the path or not. Pursuing a research-degree in Higher Education as a field of study in a multicultural and inclusive environment in Denver, changed my view of career priorities and life purposes.

After completing my PhD, I joined World Education Services—a New York-based non-profit with 40 years’ experience in international education research. I have been a beneficiary of the life-changing international education experience and continue to be committed to advancing the profession and purpose of international education.’


What personal advice can you give to a student coming to the US or generally studying abroad anywhere in the world?

‘Studying abroad is a complex decision for anyone with a range of personal, financial and academic variables influencing it. In this decision-making process, students are often swayed by two major limitations. One, they think short term. Second, they value opinions over research.

My first advice is to introspect and think long term by defining goals in terms of what do they want to accomplish by going abroad, what kind of career path appeals them, how this study abroad experience going to add value and so on. While, I can say from my experience, that introspection is not a perfect science and plans do not pan out exactly the way one hopes; but a sense of direction could be very helpful in getting a satisfying experience.

My second advice would be to take control of their educational plans by researching alternatives. Days of limitation of information are over. Today, students have ample online resources to explore and evaluate options. While opinion of one’s aunt is important, it should be considered in the context of the plethora of information available on the web. With social media, access to university admissions officers and variety of advisory websites, students should make more informed decisions.’


Contrary to what was the traditional trend for many years, now more incoming international students to the US are coming to study at undergraduate level, instead of graduate level. Why do you think this is?

‘Yes, that's a mega trend and a big shift in terms of the level at which students come to study in the US. On the student side, with the expanding middle class in countries like China, there is more willingness and ability to invest in education. In addition, countries like Saudi Arabia are fully funding students to study abroad. This student side demand meets the university side challenges of less financial assistantships/scholarships for graduate level and pressure to raise tuition revenue. In this context, international student enrolment at undergraduate level is becoming more attractive for universities and growing at a faster rate than graduate level.’


When asked two years ago about latest trends in international education and student mobility, you introduced the phrase of ‘glocal’ students. What is the latest development now in 2014, or what should we be looking out for?

‘Over the decade, there is a consistent increase in mobility of students going abroad. What has shifted in this decade is the emergence of new destinations like Dubai, and hence a new type of student: “Glocal students”, who want to gain global educational experience, while staying within local region. Large number of Indian students studying in China for Medicine degrees or Malaysian students enroled in various branch campuses of foreign universities is prime example of ‘glocal’ students.

One major trend in 2014 and onwards is the emergence of technology-enabled learning models. Consider MOOCs, although currently not a degree alternative, have started offering global learning opportunities from leading universities, while staying in local region. At the same time, many traditional distance learning universities are revamping their offering as online degrees to glocal students. So, the exciting space to watch for is the growth of technology-enabled learning models to glocal students.’

Tip: Are you interested in studying at a campus in your own country which is affiliated with an international university? Browse Monash University Malaysia’s profile.


How else can technology and ‘digital’ be utilised in international education?

‘I see immense potential for maximising the potential of international higher education through technology. One of the biggest limitations of global education experiences is cost, which in turn makes it an access and inequity issue. Cleary, someone from middle to higher social-economic statuses has a higher likelihood of studying abroad than someone with less financial resources to invest in education. This is where technology can offer alternative pathways for people to access and engage with international education experiences. Of course, technology cannot replace the lived immersive experiences but it can offer introductory experiences to a larger number of students and potentially create a bridge for future in-person experiences. So it's not a replacement but a compliment to those international experiences one may not be able to get in person.’ 


Is there an issue which you feel isn’t getting enough attention?

‘It is an exciting time to be in international higher education. Demand for foreign education from students in emerging markets is increasing and at the same time their choices are also increasing. This ranges from new destinations to new channels of receiving education (MOOCS).

In addition to the previously discussed changes in the profile of international students (e.g. glocal students and more undergraduate students going abroad), their study abroad decision-making behaviour is also changing. Many more international students are now searching and researching options online and connecting on social media.

This makes it very important for universities to better understand the diversity of prospective international students to not only recruit the best, but also offer them a great experience, as satisfied student becomes a brand ambassador.

In sum, higher education has to stop lumping all international students as one monolithic block, but recognise the diverse segments of international students in terms of their needs, preferences and behaviours.’


More about Rahul:

Dr. Rahul Choudaha is an expert in the field of international higher education. Widely recognised for his thought leadership, Choudaha blogs on DrEducation.com and writes, presents and advises on internationalisation of higher education. As the Chief Knowledge Officer and Senior Director of Strategic Development at World Education Services, a New York-based international education research organization, he leads a team responsible for research, innovation and outreach. Additionally, Rahul earned a doctorate in higher education from the University of Denver, a Master’s degree in Management and a Bachelor of Engineering degree from India.

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