India: organizing press trips for journalists specializing in teaching and higher education (17 June 2015)

For the past three years, the French Embassy in India has organized an annual press trip for Indian journalists specializing in teaching and higher education. Each of these trips enabled between four and six journalists to visit Paris and major French university cities.

This initiative was based on the observation that mass media in India focuses heavily on higher education, reflecting the concerns of middle-class Indian families about their children’s education:

  • Most major Indian newspapers and magazines have an educational supplement (Education Times for the Times of India, HT Education for the Hindustan Times, Aspire for the India Today group) with a huge readership, run by an education editor and a specific team of journalists.
  • These trips were also open to journalists from major regional press groups corresponding to areas of India identified as potential breeding grounds for students, such as West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The aim: to promote French higher education

The aim was to provide detailed information on the French higher education system and the opportunities it offers to foreign students. For historical and linguistic reasons, most Indian journalists have studied abroad in the United Kingdom or the United States. The goal was to familiarize them with the French system, which bears similarities to the Indian system: existence of grandes écoles (elite higher education establishments) alongside universities (e.g. Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, etc.), prestige associated with engineering courses, which are sometimes supplemented by a management course, and so on.

The goal was also to promote France’s scholarship system and the many courses that it offers in English - as most Indian students who study in France do so in English, while learning French for use in daily life in the country.

The number of articles published after these press trips (around forty), and their length, confirmed that another initial goal had been fulfilled, namely to maximize media coverage at a low cost. For the cost of three trips and providing for the journalists, the Embassy would only have been able to afford around twenty short inserts in the Indian press - bearing in mind that these would have been seen as advertisements and would have had less impact than articles, which attract greater attention from readers.

Organizing the trips: a team effort

The organization of these trips relies on close collaboration between the Embassy’s Cooperation and Cultural Action Service (SCAC), the Embassy’s press service and the MAEDI operator Campus France:

In liaison with the MAEDI, each year the SCAC identifies the establishments, interviews and visits that are most appropriate for the journalists’ trip. It also selects the areas of India which represent major sources of students, so that the relevant media outlets can be contacted. It then remains in close contact with the operator Campus France to ensure that the press trip runs smoothly.

In liaison with the MAEDI, the press service identifies the most relevant media outlets, especially with regard to regional press; it then contacts the chief editors who, in the Indian system, decide whether to send a journalist and select one. By making contact in this way, it is able to guide them in their choice by presenting the main features of the trip.

The operator Campus France offers organizational support, manages the booking of appointments, the programme and the hosting of the journalists.

Three ways to ensure a successful press trip

Identify links with India, to enable the journalists to write articles that speak to their readers (an “Indian nugget”, in the words of one Indian journalist): interviews with Indian students in France (thanks to tracking of students by the university cooperation sector), explanation of scholarships available for top Indian students, visit to the maison de l’Inde (India house) of the student residence, etc.

Send an embassy staff member to accompany the journalists: on each of these press trips, the embassy sent a member of staff, either from the university cooperation sector or from the press service. This is essential to ensure follow-up (some articles may be published several weeks after the press trip, for a special edition on studying abroad or in response to another country introducing restrictions on foreign students). It is also a means of building personal links with journalists and developing the embassy network.

Maintain links with the journalists who travelled to France: the university cooperation sector and the press service make sure that these journalists, once they have returned from France, remain closely involved in the activities of the relevant embassy or consulate general.

Several positive outcomes

This initiative has been very successful, with around forty articles published in the three years since it was launched. These articles are often long and include several full-page articles and front-page articles in the main Indian newspapers (including the Education Times of the Times of India, and HT Education).

This initiative has helped to increase the number of Indian students who travel to France, which rose by 15% between 2013 and 2014.

Lastly, there is a lot to be learnt from these press trips in terms of our communication policy on higher education in France. The questions asked by the Indian journalists on these trips give an outside perspective on certain characteristics of the French system: generous social support offered to students, equal treatment of French and foreign students, very low tuition fees in French universities (leading some journalists to ask if these were third-rate courses, before it was explained that they are heavily subsidized by the French authorities), questions on the number of institutions that belong to the Sorbonne, which is the main “brand” of French higher education that is well-known in India, etc.

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