Vinita Desai will be involved in student engagement and recruitment for Lehigh’s undergraduate and graduate Indian programs

Vinita Desai is excited. The Mumbai-based counselor is Lehigh University’s new in-country representative as the Senior International Advisor for India. And it is an exciting time to be in that position, says Desai because, "The U.S. is in huge demand among Indian students."

According to the Department of State, in 2022 the United States issued 115,000 F1 visas for students from India. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs notes that in 2022, more than 13 million Indian students were studying abroad, with the U.S. being the top destination. India has surpassed China as the leading source of new international graduate students in the United States, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.

Primarily, Desai will be involved in student engagement and recruitment for Lehigh’s undergraduate and graduate Indian programs. Additionally, she will support Lehigh’s International Office in identifying and fostering meaningful collaborations and partnerships with premium educational institutions in India. "I am excited,” she said, “to integrate my skills and expertise to create a positive impact on Lehigh’s vision for internationalization.”

Desai followed her Bachelor’s in Microbiology with a degree in Business Administration and a Ph.D. in Education. She worked both as an assistant professor as well as in private migration and education consulting firms in India. "I can view higher education from all angles and I know it from the inside out."

Like many Indians working in Higher Education, Desai was electrified by the NEP 2020. That year, the Indian government published the New Education Policy, a framework designed to increase literacy, adopt a more holistic, inter-disciplinary and multi-lingual education as well as to align degrees in higher education with Western models.

According to Desai, NEP 2020 is starting to show changes: "India has begun to rewrite its old story of male-dominance, gender bias and social inequality in education. NEP 2020 in light of globalization has changed the dynamics of higher education in India. It promotes internationalization of education and encourages Indian uiversities to collaborate and partner with foreign institutions. It’s a huge potential market that I am determined to tap into."

Desai’s role demands liaising with educational institutions and external agencies in India to promote programs at Lehigh: "There will be considerable travel across the country and interaction with numerous stakeholders to enhance Lehigh’s visibility and recognition in the region." She is looking forward to this part of her job – Desai is a people person and says forming meaningful relationships is one of her greatest strengths. Her network spans the world, "and it’s genuine connections, not just LinkedIn," she laughed.

Desai plans to expand recruiting efforts in India to cities further away from the large metropolitan areas. Socioeconomic developments made studying abroad viable for a larger number of Indians. "There also has been a paradigm shift in society away from traditionally larger towards more modern nuclear families creating a clear appetite for parents to provide their child with the best."

As the mother of a college-age daughter, Desai can relate to this not only on a professional level. "A good recruiter isn’t just selling a product," she said. "You are giving people a sense of direction. You are helping them make an important decision at an important stage in their life."

Desai points out that Lehigh University as a distinguished private research university with especially strong business and engineering programs is a very well-received and known institution among stakeholders in India. Moreover, it is also close to metropolitan areas like New York City, yet considered to be a comparatively safe place. A fact that is not to be underestimated, said Desai: "Safety matters a lot to Indian parents."

At Lehigh, students from India make up the second largest group of international students, after China. "India is very important for Lehigh’s global engagement strategy," said Cheryl Matherly, Lehigh's Vice President and Vice Provost for International Affairs, adding that the University is always seeking ways to recruit talented students, build partnerships with excellent universities, develop study and internship opportunities for current Lehigh students, and engage with alumni throughout the country.

"I am very excited to welcome Vinita to our team," Matherly said. "She brings deep experience with the Indian higher education market and will be a key player with supporting our recruiting and partnership strategies."