Lejo Sam Oommen is the Managing Director of ETS India, a subsidiary of ETS based in Princeton, NJ, USA. He is a seasoned business leader with deep management experience and wide business perspectives developed working across locations and sectors. Before joining ETS, Oommen served as the General Manager at Pearson for nearly 10 years where he oversaw all business aspects of the company’s PTE-Academic test in India. He has been credited for his contribution to the strong business performance and delivering significant results in growth, revenue, operational performance, and profitability. He has also held roles with leading organizations including Reliance Money, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank. Oommen holds a graduate degree in Electronics from St. Josephs Arts and Science College, Bangalore University. In an interaction with the Higher Education Digest, Lejo Sam Oommen talks about the impact of the pandemic on international student mobility, his growth strategy for ETS products and services in India, and much more.
How has the pandemic affected international student mobility? What is the trend now?
International student mobility helps advance the internationalization of higher education and is an important way to cultivate talent at a global level. While the lockdowns and travel restrictions initially were hurdles for international students, this hasn’t slowed the aspirations of Indian students — 91% of Indian students still show a strong interest in studying abroad. In fact, applications from Indian students for the 2022 fall admissions cycle at international universities have doubled in comparison to last year, with incentives from campus recruiters helping to grow interest among prospective students.
Many prominent education destinations have also eased visa regulations. A record number of student visas were issued to Indian students recently, with 62,000 issued by the United States and 90,669 by the United Kingdom. We also witnessed education institutions at the forefront of providing help to international students during the pandemic. U.K. varsities supported Indian students who were facing extreme circumstances as a result of the pandemic from help with living accommodations to ensuring students’ comfortable repatriation. Australia offered COVID support and relief to students with visa extensions and work permits, while the Canada Emergency Response Benefit provided monetary support to eligible Indian students.
We also saw how higher education institutions worldwide transformed from being providers of education in a physical classroom space to a virtual environment to which both the students and their families adapted quickly to the evolving higher education world.
At ETS, we offer, and develop, solutions that help both test takers and institutions to continue their educational journeys without interruption through our trusted testing solutions amid the pandemic and beyond.
How did ETS manage to function without severe hassles during the pandemic?
As the pandemic impacted the world, the biggest challenge for us at ETS was how to make our assessments accessible to test takers during this challenging time while continuing to serve institutions worldwide with reliable scores. In a pioneering move, ETS launched the first at home assessments, the TOEFL iBT Home Edition and the GRE General Test at Home. These tests are identical in content, format, on-screen experience and scoring to the tests taken at traditional test centers. Yet, they offer test takers the flexibility to test safely from their home with the support of a live human proctor. Due to the overwhelming demand we have received for our at-home solutions they are now a permanent offering to ensure that test takers have access to testing options that meet their needs.
Building on the success and learnings of the TOEFL iBT Home Edition, ETS’s TOEFL Program launched a second at-home testing option in May 2021 – the TOEFL Essentials test. This test responded to unmet market needs and provides an optimal combination of the convenience and affordability test takers want, with the high quality institutions trust. A few months later in October 2021, and to further strengthen the TOEFL iBT portfolio, TOEFL iBT Paper Edition was launched in select countries, including India. It’s the same 4-skills TOEFL iBT test delivered in a unique format over two sessions – one in test centres (for the Reading, Writing and Listening sections) and the second at home (for the Speaking section). The TOEFL portfolio now consists of a range of testing options with convenient test locations and delivery modes to meet student and institutional needs.
At ETS we believe in being agile and responsive to the dynamically changing education environment and we continue to do all that we can to meet the needs of test takers where they are. Our mission is to expand access and equity in education for all learners by furthering our commitment with our best-in-class solutions to support students and professionals continue their educational and professional journeys.
ETS has been operational in India for several decades. Why establish a subsidiary in 2021?
Since 1947, ETS has been delivering trusted, innovative and equitable education solutions to students across the globe including helping Indian aspirants attain their dreams of higher education in the destinations of their choice. The higher education landscape has dynamically evolved in the past year due to the pandemic coupled with the new education policies of the Indian government.
In response, we have established a dedicated Indian subsidiary — ETS India, to address the needs of test takers and institutions and to further strengthen and foster our presence in India. ETS India is well equipped with an accomplished team to support ETS operations in-country and to continue our work of advancing educational opportunities for Indian learners.
In order to tap into the abundant opportunities that India offers and to ensure our efforts of providing reliable tests now into the future, we will put a sustained focus on the development and execution of locally created initiatives, supported by an accomplished and strong local management team.
ETS India will support growth within the workforce and for aspiring students by providing assessments like the GRE® and TOEFL® tests along with other learning products that will advance the skills of the learners and workers of tomorrow. India is a dominant force in the global marketplace, and it is our goal to become woven into the fabric of its education system. This will help us to grow ETS’s footprint in India and continue to focus on expanding educational opportunities for Indian learners.
As the Managing Director of ETS India, what is your overall growth strategy for its products and services in India?
ETS India will help ETS execute a focused and coordinated in-country strategy that is aligned with the organization’s broader global strategy. We will have resources deployed across India in order to maximize effectiveness and expand our relationships and work with the higher education community and ecosystem in order to support students (and their parents) no matter where they are in their learning journeys. In addition, ETS India’s staff will be agile and responsive to market needs and take a local approach to test center capacity and management that is required in order to compete in today’s education and workforce landscape.
Our intention is to be viewed as a contributor and asset to Indian students’ acquisition of English-language skills as they work to demonstrate acquired knowledge in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), business and legal fields. By providing learning products and assistive tools, ETS India will be a key contributor to how students and workers validate their skills as they pursue their educational and lifelong dreams.
How will the new ETS center in India impact Indian test-takers? What benefits can be expected?
ETS India’s establishment further underscores our commitment to the Indian student community and will be instrumental in helping ETS understand the rapidly-evolving Indian higher education sector under progressive policy framework such as the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 while identifying ways to align solutions.
We look forward to continuing to deliver the high-quality, valid assessment and learning solutions that we are known for through ETS India. Indian students and professionals will benefit from having an on-the-ground team to serve them in their learning journey as well as exposure to not only the assessments that ETS offers but also the learning products and solutions that will help bring their education full circle. Through high-quality learning products and assistive tools, ETS India will play a key role in how students and workers validate their skills and are able to pursue their educational and professional dreams.
The higher education sector in India is undergoing a massive transformation with the introduction of NEP. How does ETS view these changes?
We’ve reached a pivotal point in the ongoing evolution of education — there is a fundamental change in how educational services are delivered, how tools and assessments are structured, and how learners, schools and companies are engaged and connected. Our objective is in complete alignment with those of the NEP — providing equitable and accessible education to all. With our funding, expertise and experience in education, ETS has been instrumental in addressing gaps, while simultaneously tapping into new opportunities. We will continue to bring value-add capabilities in assessments, research and development, global distribution and innovative technologies to our portfolio. ETS India is open to partnering with the Indian government to continue to take education in India to a global level.
How is ETS India preparing to operate in the post-pandemic world?
ETS develops assessments that are of the highest quality, that accurately measure the necessary knowledge and skills and are fair for all test takers. During these challenging times, ETS was able to find innovative solutions to serve its stakeholders and partners with the best in class, reliable solutions they have come to depend on ETS for. Now with ETS India, we have a competent team of experts in-country who are well equipped to accommodate the ever-changing needs of Indian students and the Indian higher education landscape.
ETS is strongly aligned with India’s bold and visionary approach to reforming, improving and broadening access to quality education for all Indians. Our mission-oriented approach of advancing quality and equity in education for all is consistent with this forward-thinking vision. As part of our commitment to the Indian market, we will continue to expand our portfolio of education resources and tools and keep working to further innovate our existing assessments to ensure fairness, validity and reliability to produce meaningful results and help students and professionals achieve their lifetime goals.
In order to tap into the abundant opportunities that India offers, we will put a sustained focus on the development and execution of locally created initiatives, supported by a dedicated and strong local management team with an appropriate sales and marketing organization. Our understanding of the education landscape both abroad and within India will continue to drive demand for our offerings and enable us to expand our footprint in country.