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Canadian pathway growth faces capacity, fragmentation challenges

Nearly a third (30%) of all international undergraduates entering Canadian universities come via pathway programmes each year, according to first-of-its kind research by the Illuminate Consulting Group. ICG has calculated there are approximately 10,600 international students currently enrolled in pathway programmes but expects the number to reach 17,500 by 2020.

Camosun College (above) offers support programmes alongside its regular academic courses that help students to understand technical terminology related to their studies. Photo: Wikicommons/Blake Handley.Camosun College (above) offers support programmes alongside its regular academic courses that help students to understand technical terminology related to their studies. Photo: Wikicommons/Blake Handley.

In 2014, nearly two thirds of students completing pathways were enrolled from university-operated EAP programmes

However, despite the projected growth, the group says pathway provision lags behind more mature markets in competitor countries.

“We have seen EAP programmes from six weeks to two years, all under the same label. If you look at this from the outside, it can be very confusing”

Estimating that the number of international students pursuing undergraduate study in Canada will reach 50,000 by 2020, up from 35,300 new enrolments in 2014, IGC’s study adds that pathway programmes “must find the capacity to support 17,500 students transitioning into universities” within the next five years.

The research, a snapshot of which was embedded in CBIE’s annual A World of Learning report published last month, says that approaches to pathways in Canada have been “haphazard, with enrolment figures running at much lower rates” than in Australia and the UK.

Canada’s pathways landscape is “extremely fragmented”, which can make it difficult for students to understand the programmes on offer, commented Daniel Guhr, IGC’s managing director.

Most pathways are institutionally embedded and the ‘university transfer’ model popular in Australia in the UK is “atypical” in Canada, accounting for just 6% of undergraduate entrants, the research notes.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.28.51In 2014, nearly two thirds (7,500) of students completing pathways were enrolled from university-operated English for Academic Purposes programmes, with a small number coming from university transfer programmes.

“We have seen EAP programmes from six weeks to two years, all under the same label: with credit; without credit; with credit that doesn’t go forward,” Guhr said at the CBIE conference last month. “If you look at this from the outside, if you try to understand Canada, it can be very confusing.”

“Part of the problem is having the provincial education system it’s very hard to bring that system together,” added Geoff Wilmshurst, director of Camosun International at Camosun College in British Columbia.

In BC, many institutions market pathways as part of a ‘package’ for international students that includes a foundation in English language and academic preparation leading into college study, he said.

However, this is not the case in many provinces around the country.

“We see this as a big gap in the Canadian realm, where it’s unclear what you’re actually buying, and to expect a 17-year-old Brazillian, Chinese or Indian student or their family to figure this out, that’s a bit much,” commented Guhr.

“Part of the problem is having the provincial education system it’s very hard to bring that system together”

The research also highlights positive aspects of Canadian pathways including a trend towards providing ongoing support to international students after they have completed a foundation course.

Camosun, for example, offers support programmes alongside its regular academic courses that help students to understand technical terminology related to their studies at no extra cost.

“It’s an investment that we make because I regard it as money well spent,” Wilmshurst said.

Joanne Fox, principal and academic director at UBC Vantage College, suggested that peer networks can also help to support students post-pathway.

In order to develop further, ICG has prompted Canadian post-secondary institutions to consider whether their own pathways will be able to meet growing demand, whether they could benefit from public-private partnerships, and how pathways can be streamlined.

“It is incumbent on stakeholders in Canadian international education to engage with the need for more integrated, more collaborative and high quality pathway programmes to ensure the vitality of Canadian international education,” it concludes.

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