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Diversification of international student populations has been a pressing concern for Irish institutions over the last few years. The sector has come to recognise that over-reliance on specific countries leaves institutions vulnerable to the whims of domestic and international policy, as well as a multitude of other external factors outside of their control.

2020 has only reinforced the importance of a diverse international student body as international disputes between governments threatened the stability of student flows. Add to this the impact of COVID-19, which has resulted in a complicated and wide-ranging set of domestic and international immigration policies from each country, making having an active recruitment presence across numerous source regions even more important.

As we look to the future, focusing on broadening the scope of recruitment efforts should be high on the agenda of Irish institutions. To help the sector find its feet and strategise effectively regarding prospective new markets, we provide insight into global regions through analysis of live student data from our IQ On Demand tools.

Here, we focus on one of the biggest global players for student demand: India. Should you have any questions regarding the content covered here, or wish to discuss your international recruitment strategy with one of our expert team, reach out to us here.

Key takeaways

  • While COVID-19 has had a significant impact on Indian student demand, there are positive signs of a strong recovery as we go into 2021

  • While there are similarities between how the last year has affected postgraduate and undergraduate students, there are also key differences between the two study levels which must be understood for effective recruitment

  • Mumbai was the Indian city that provided the most postgraduate search traffic for Irish institutions in 2020, and is in a strong position going into 2021

  • The pandemic affected each of the top five Indian cities differently, but there are key opportunities for tailored subject-specific marketing in each city

Why India?

When looking into diversifying international student populations, India should form a critical part of recruitment strategies for institutions in Ireland. The region has a large and growing prospective student population and there is a strong tradition of studying in Ireland that is supported by well entrenched networks.

These characteristics of the Indian market are evidenced in the graph below which shows traffic from Indian students searching for higher education courses in Ireland on IDP Connect sites 1 January 2019 to 3 December 2021.

As shown above, interest in Ireland from Indian students had begun rising steadily from about June 2019, hitting a peak over August and September of 2019 before returning to stable levels for the rest of the year with only a slight dip over late November and December (which we can attribute to the festive period).

After the outbreak of COVID-19 and the impact of the global pandemic, interest in Ireland fell significantly in March, reaching its lowest levels in May and early June. From the end of June, Indian student searches for studying in Ireland began to recover – albeit not to pre-COVID levels and regained some stability in September and October before dropping again during the second UK lockdown in November. The key positive, going into 2021, is the much faster and stronger uptick in traffic from Indian students searching Irish institutions after the November lockdown, with only a slight and expected drop over the festive season, perhaps indicative that students are growing in confidence that Irish institutions will be able to provide the educational experience they desire.

Given the second peak in traffic seen in January to March 2019 combined with good news about vaccines and the potential for increasing numbers of overseas students in 2020, we can predict further growth in Indian students researching Irish institutions between January and March 2021.

Historic trends in Indian student traffic coupled with the evolving COVID-19 situation suggests that, not only will India prove a prime source of international students from the very start of 2021, but if the upward trend in Indian student demand resumes its pre-COVID-19 trajectory, opportunities for international student recruitment in that region will continue to grow. 

Indian Undergraduate and Postgraduate Student Demand by City: 2020 Trends

Broken down to the city trends, the graphs below depict Indian student search traffic for Ireland between 1 January 2020 and 3 January 2021. There are both striking similarities and differences in the undergraduate and postgraduate traffic trends over this period. Mumbai is the top city for Indian student searches for Ireland at both postgraduate and undergraduate course level, and at both study levels traffic dropped off significantly in March. Equally, both undergraduate and postgraduate courses have seen city trends in traffic shift considerably during the COVID-19 crisis, albeit with undergraduate demand showing the most turbulence. These changes in student demand at a city level for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses have important implications for recruitment efforts in the region.

Postgraduate Demand for Ireland by Indian City

Undergraduate Demand for Ireland by Indian City

It is evident that there have also been considerable differences between trends for postgraduate and undergraduate student searches over the past year. We can see in the graphs above that, for postgraduate courses, each city followed a similar smooth downward trend from March to July before beginning to increase in August. The order of the cities from highest to lowest demand has seen some re-ordering over the course of the year, but the same top three cities (Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai) who started the the year with the most traffic, are also driving strongest demand going into 2022.

The story is very different for undergraduate search trends, where there was a lot more volatility over the course of the year and from the analysis of the close of 2020, there is an entirely new line up of  cities  showing the most demand for undergraduate education in Ireland. New Delhi (which did not even feature in the postgraduate top five) was one of the worst-hit for undergraduate student demand in 2020, falling from second-highest behind Bengaluru in February to fifth behind Hyderabad (another city which does not make the top five in postgraduate student demand) in September and October. However, New Deli has seen a singificant recovery since November and as we go into 2021 is the second city for student demand behind Mumbai.

Mumbai was arguably the greatest anomaly of 2020, with one of the smallest declines in undergraduate searches for institutions in Ireland even at the peak of the global pandemic. Mumbai also saw a significant increase in searches since August through to September and December peaks that exceeded  the city’s pre-COVID-19 search levels. Mumbai appears to be showing consistent and resiliant growth in undergraduate student demand despite the influence of a pandemic, making it a key city for recruitment strategies in the region.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate student recruitment from India will form a critical piece of the puzzle for Irish institutions looking to diversify their student populations. To do this successfully, a granular understanding of which cities, subjects, and sub-disciplines are driving interest at both study levels will be required.

In the remainder of this article, we will provide subject-level analysis of the top three Indian cities for postgraduate student demand to Ireland.

Postgraduate subject trends by city

Health and Medicine courses are the most popular postgraduate subject searches in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai (the three cities with the highest postgraduate demand for Ireland), demonstrating the prominence of the subject area’s popularity across India. In each of the three cities, Health and Medicine took over 30% of subject searches over the year in 2020, making up a considerable chunk of all Indian postgraduate interest in Ireland. While Health and Medicine will be key subjects to market in each of these cities, Chennai had the strongest demand at 42%, demonstrating a strong skew towards the field from prospective postgraduate students in the city.

This overarching trend towards Health and Medicine shown at the subject level is important, however, a more granular understanding of which sub-disciplines are driving the subject demand in each city, will enable institutions to deliver targeted marketing and recruitment strategies to truly capitalise on student demand.

Furthermore, Health and Medicine is not the only subject area with strong demand for universities in Ireland, each of the top three postgraduate demand cities in India show a unique spread of interest and student searches across different subject areas. 

Postgraduate Subject Demand in Mumbai

In terms of postgraduate student demand for Ireland over the whole time period (1 January 2020 to 3 January 2021), Mumbai has been the source of the most student traffic. The city was one of the first to see postgraduate student demand recover after the initial drop in March and was the top city for demand between June and November. As we enter the new year, the top three cities for Indian student demand to Ireland are clustered very closely together, but Mumbai’s resilience over the past year makes it a critical city for Irish institutions moving forward. If the recent trends continue and Mumbai can build on this early-stage recovery, it may be a city to watch for increasing recruitment opportunities as greater numbers of students in the city look to Ireland for postgraduate education.

Interestingly, in Mumbai Business and Administrative Studies takes up almost a quarter of all postgraduate course searches for Ireland, far more than seen in Bengaluru or Chennai and only 7% lower than Health and Medicine, which continues to dominate. Institution portfolios with strong Business and Administrations courses therefore have the potential to see particularly high interest in Mumbai, particularly if courses are tailored to match the sub-discipline trends emerging in this increasingly important city.

As a result of the significant trend towards Business and Administrative studies, the other three subjects in the cities’ top five (Applied and Pure Sciences, Engineering and Technology, and Computer and Mathematical Science) all see a considerably lower share of searches. This includes Applied and Pure Sciences, which comes in at 13%, lower than the share in Chennai and Hyderabad despite coming in third for the city.

This means that there is more interest in Applied and Pure Sciences as a percentage share in Hyderabad and Chennai the strong and sustainable traffic in Mumbai means tailored marketing of Applied and Pure Science subdisciplines is likely still to reap good results in Mumbai. 

Postgraduate Subject Demand in Bengaluru

Postgraduate student demand for Irish institutions from Bengaluru was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with the most significant decline in traffic of the top five cities. In June, at the height of the global pandemic, postgraduate student demand from Bengaluru was behind both Mumbai and Chennai, only slightly higher than Pune and Hyderabad. However, since August, Bengaluru’s search traffic for postgraduate searches began a consistent recovery and Bengaluru closed 2020 leading the other cities for searches over the end of November and December. Given that Bengaluru had the strongest postgraduate student demand for Ireland prior to the pandemic, we can be confident that there is high potential in the city, and those institutions in Ireland who take the initiative and strategise carefully to engage with prospective students in the city are likely to see a high return in ROI as demand begins to return.

As Bengaluru is most renowned for its IT and Aerospace sectors, it is perhaps surprising that Applied and Pure Sciences and Computer and Mathematics courses come in as the third and fourth most popular subjects, at 14% and 10% respectively. Instead, Health and Medicine courses are the most in demand postgraduate courses at nearly 40% with Business and Administrative courses also taking a significant share of searches at 17%.

Irish institutions looking to position themselves at the centre of Bengaluru’s returning postgraduate student demand should use a combination of competitor analysis, sector knowledge and sub-discipline demand trends to identify what is driving the demand for these subjects and develop course portfolios tailored to meet it. 

Postgraduate Subject Demand in Chennai

In relation to Postgraduate student demand, Chennai was the city which fared the best during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing the least decline in searches for courses in Ireland. Chennai is also entering 2021 having closed the gap with both Mumbai and Bengaluru in terms of search traffic volume. The resilience of student demand even during a global pandemic indicates its importance as a source of postgraduate students.

Additionally, IDP Connect has a strong and growing presence in Chennai, the location of our new Digital Campus, which makes us well positioned to further develop important local knowledge and routes to connect with prospective students and capitalise on the city’s potential.

Demand for Health and Medicine courses is the most prominent in Chennai, at 42%, which can be attributed to the city’s status as the Health Capital of India. In Chennai, Applied and Pure Sciences are the second most popular searches for Irish institutions at 15% over Business and Administrative courses in third at 12%. As the largest industrial and commercial centre of South India, with a strong tradition in electronics and software, engineering, and automotive manufacturing, it is interesting that prospective postgraduate students considering Irish institutions are demonstrating a preference for Applied and pure Sciences over other subject areas. This trend is something which can be drilled down into in more detail through analysis of sub-disciplines. These subject trends in one of India’s most affluent and increasingly aspirational cities are likely to continue to fluctuate and should be tracked carefully to optimise portfolios and marketing for ROI.


We have shown the significant and growing opportunities in India for international student recruitment, offering an important and well positioned market for institutions heading into the new year with the goal to diversify the student population. This is a market that is recovering particularly well from the impact of COVID-19 and shows the promise of continued growth in the years ahead.

The data has also shown the importance of a tailored regional approach, demonstrating that subject trends can differ significantly and that even the prominence of city markets themselves can fluctuate rapidly, thus needing consistent monitoring for the best ROI.

For analysis of the remaining cities, or to explore trends at a sub-discipline or undergraduate level, we recommend subscribing to our On Demand Tracker Tool. Further information of this live data analysis service is available here.

Institutions focusing on undergraduate international student recruitment may also find this recent article on a new program for engaging prospective undergraduate students in India useful, available here.

CP - Image - Headshot - Ella Grimwade - UK
Ella Grimwade12 January 2021