How Deakin University conquered India

131104 indian studentIn 1996, Deakin University became the first international university to establish an office in India. It has been building relationships ever since. Its original focus was on enrolments, but that gradually expanded to include building partnerships with Indian universities, research institutions and businesses; and identifying sources of funds for joint research that would benefit both countries.

Deakin’s Indian story is one of presence, passion and persistence.

Firstly, Deakin’s approach was to create a well-reasoned, long-term strategy funded and supported by senior management.

Secondly, focus was vital. Deakin recognised that research partnerships were critical to building its brand in India and establishing credibility. Deakin moved beyond student recruitment as a way to grow its business.

Thirdly, an office in India also allowed Deakin to target its marketing and public relations without relying too much on local agents.

Relationships run deeper than money

Ravneet Pawha, Deakin University Country Director for India, says the challenge was on two levels: why Australia, and why Deakin?

“Deakin wasn’t in the top 400 universities in the world, so we had to establish the Deakin name,” says Pawha.

“We got one of our best scientists, Professor Peter Hodgson, who is a Laureate Fellow in Australia, to help us connect with institutions and industry in India.

“It was also vital for our Vice-Chancellor to come to India. We needed to show a commitment from the top, and explain that Deakin was not just about taking profits out of India, but of putting something back in. So, we started connecting at all levels – industry, government, and non-profits.

“In India, relationships are vital, and they are not based on money.”


Deakin maintained its office in India even when the short-term financials were grim. Deakin settled in for the long haul. Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jane den Hollander, supported the India operations and this long-term commitment is now paying dividends.

“India has transformed itself into an economic powerhouse, and as the world economic focus shifts from north to south and from west to east, positive relationships in this vital market are increasingly important,” den Hollander says.

When Australia recently changed its rules for student visas, Deakin was well placed to adapt quickly and re-focus its local business.

“Having a presence here has been extremely helpful in building our credibility,” says Pawha. “We have been able to streamline our recruitment process, improve customer service, and forge deep relationships with some of the biggest names in Indian business, education and research. “It has been hard work, and taken a lot of time, effort and money, but we are now seeing the results.”

Generating benefits for India and Australia

Deakin is now well known and has 30 partnerships with Indian universities, research institutions, and companies, including Tata Steel, Biocon, The Eye Foundation, Reliance Bio Sciences and Indian Oil Corporation, etc.

Of special note are Deakin’s research partnerships with the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Technology, both India’s premium research institutions.

“Our partnerships aim to enhance India’s capability in research, with a strong connection to Australia in areas that are critical to both countries such as food security, manufacturing” says den Hollander.

For example, Deakin launched the Deakin India Research Initiative (DIRI) in India in 2009. DIRI builds on Deakin’s expertise in material science, nanotechnology and biotechnology to bridge the divide between industry and academia.

DIRI supports reciprocal research by students largely based in India and jointly supervised by a Deakin and an Indian supervisor. This has helped to strengthen relationships between the academic and research fraternities of both countries.

By 2014 Deakin will have over 100 in-country PhD students engaged with leading Industry and academia. With total projected joint investment of about A$4 million, den Hollander says the centre aims to have more than 70 PhD students over the next three years.

Deakin’s newest initiative in India is around meeting a growing demand for sports management education. A national skills gap study found that by 2022, India would need more than two million professionals to organise, manage, and administer the country’s growing interest in sport.

Deakin is also working with Austrade and the Confederation of Indian Industry to develop curriculum for sports management programmes.

How Austrade helped Deakin in India

Austrade has been a close ally of Deakin in India. Recent collaborations include a series of activities over 18 months to promote sports management as a study option and career choice. As a result, Deakin’s Indian applicants in this course increased 200 per cent.

“We’ve always worked well with Austrade,” says Pawha. “Anyone who is looking to do business in India should look to Austrade. They are strategically positioned to help establish connections and provide credibility. “Over 15 years, they’ve given us sound market advice and contacts, and this has been very fruitful.

Patience is everything

Pawha says the main ingredients for success in India are patience, and creating real value for both sides. “Rewards in India come from commitment, focus, passion, hard work, and finding common ground”

“The major cultural tie between Australia and India is democracy. The second is inclusivity. The cultural diversity of the two countries is similar, as is the idea of accepting people for who they are. There is also a shared focus on quality. These are the areas to concentrate on.

“There are frustrations, yes. This is India. The complexities of the whole system, and the cultural aspects, are very strong. “But while it all takes a long time to work, once you get there, it works very well.”

Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (