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Seven trends to watch out for in 2015 in international education

For many in the international education industry, January isn’t the beginning of a new year but the continuation of the previous, especially for those working to academic cycles. It follows suit that some seeds for business and collaboration in 2015 were sown last year, although developments in the sector will also be dictated by the unpredictable global marketplace. Whether you’re picking up where you left off in 2014 or starting afresh, here are the emerging trends to look out for in the new year.

the future of education-2015

Post-study work rights and longer-term retention or opportunity in a destination country will continue to play a major role in students' decision-making too

1. More Industry Consolidation

2014 saw its share of acquisitions, but experts agree that the industry is only beginning to open up to private investment. Karan Khemka at The Parthenon Group commented earlier last year that while education isn’t a scalable industry, there is ample room for small players to triple in size. “There was a time when you were a small English language school or university, who would buy you? That era is gone,” he said. Several big players are also slotted to launch IPOs this year, against a backdrop of increasing global demand for tertiary-level education and appropriate skills training.

2. Rise in PPPs

Decreasing public funding in most destination countries alongside the proliferation of private investors in international education will inevitably lead to an increase in public-private partnerships, now referred to as the catchy acronym PPP. Emerging markets with shortages of government backing are especially set to benefit. PPPs might cover establishing new branch campuses, new collaborative programmes (blended or in situ) or building marketing channels and/or separate pathway provision to help global recruitment efforts.

3. Pathway boom

Significant growth in access to HE via pathway programmes and foundation courses will be the driving motivation for many public/private collaborations. The US, specifically, is set to dedicate energy into widening access for international students. UK-based players such as Cambridge Education Group, INTO and Study Group as well as Australia’s Navitas already have solid roots in the market; it could only be a matter of time before more homegrown competitors will emerge too. Boston-based Shorelight made bold progress in 2014. Who will partner with whom next?

4. Retention > Recruitment

Over the last two decades the recruitment of international students has evolved to become more professional, reflecting the growing number of mobile students. With OECD forecasting that the number of international students is set to reach 7 million in 2020, the next phase of student recruitment will require educators to look beyond getting bums on seats to keeping them there.

As more educators professionalise their strategies and analytics in this sphere, connecting international recruitment to second and third level providers, international student services and graduate employment will set competitors apart.

Post-study work rights and longer-term retention or opportunity in a destination country will continue to play a major role in students’ decision-making too.

5. Elections could signal policy changes

India, Brazil, Turkey and Colombia were among the countries which held national elections last year with varying impact on international education. Education policy could be affected in key markets holding national elections in 2015 including the UK (May), Nigeria (February), Spain (December), Denmark (September).

First up, Nigeria where social disruption around the elections could affect student recruitment. Since 2010, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has increased primary enrolments and opened the country to private providers at all levels of education. However, experts have warned educators to brace for change.

Election debates pivot around immigration policy in the lead up to the UK’s general election. Depending on which party is elected, international students could continue to be caught up in obsessions to lower immigration numbers.

6. Mobile mission

MOOCs may have not lived up to the “disruptive” hype of 2012 but they are proving to be useful tasters for university level courses, expanding brand awareness and showing overall potential of online classrooms. But another platform that hasn’t had the dazzle or catchy nomenclature is truly making waves in education delivery and is only set to grow: mobile.

The roll out of mobile and broadband networks worldwide along with relatively low-cost phones and tablets mean mobile education apps, games and services are solid revenue streams for developers. US-based Ambient Insight has predicted a compound annual growth rate of 11.1% for global sales of digital English language learning products alone over the next five years increasing revenue from US$1.3bn to US$3.8bn, with mobile driving growth.

7. Educators evolve agency scrutiny

A report by the OBHE showed that the use of agents is “real, growing and legitimate”, however more regulation is needed to narrow the scope for bad practices. Last year saw a number of agent organisations undergoing internal audits to prove their commitment to quality.

Now, with the issuance of NACAC agent guidance, US educators are ready to open up to agent use on their own terms. Late last year, English Australia, New Zealand and International House World Organisation all launched agent partnership schemes to identify and promote reputable agent partners. The dynamic between educator and agent continues to develop but now educators are making it easier to decipher between advocate or ambivalent.

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