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What to look for in international education in 2017

If we’ve learned anything from last year it’s to always expect the unexpected. Still, here’s our best bet on what will shape international education in 2017.

In 2016, some big players came forth with proactive plans to provide students with their own tools to appeal to employers

Pathways rerouted

The global English-medium pathway market was valued at $1.4bn in 2015. While around a third of pathway programmes are university-run, the majority are developed by third-party providers. In October, the US, slated to be the new frontier for pathway programmes, delivered long awaited guidance on pathway provider operations which will force many to explore new business models. SEVP requires pathway programmes to provide credit-bearing courses and guaranteed progress to a degree programme. Students must also meet a minimum of English language requirements before they start the course.

Some providers have already reacted to the policy by entering into marketing and recruitment-only partnerships with universities who set up the programmes themselves rather than entering into joint ventures with private providers. We can also expect to see more growth in pre-master’s pathways.

The year of TNE

A report by the OBHE estimated some 20 international branch campuses are currently being developed which will add to the global total of 249. The growth in IBC numbers has remained consistent over the past five years, with China emerging as the preferred country to set up shop. Although IBCs are cost-heavy, they provide the biggest returns and reach to institutions – two factors of international education that could now be at risk for UK institutions. It’s not surprising that after the Brexit vote, fears of immigration clampdowns have spurred providers to build on pre-existing TNE operations. A report by HE Global found that of the 134 universities in the UK, 99 participated in some form of transnational education in 2014/15 and four out of five plan to expand their TNE activity in the coming year.

And in France, a planning agency attached to the Prime Minister’s office called on the government to use diplomatic links to help HEIs establish TNE partnerships to compete with TNE veterans like the UK and Australia. Advancements in online delivery will no doubt make it even easier to export education and we can expect even more providers to launch bespoke platforms like EC, Cambridge Education Group and PLuS did last year.

European crisis

There’ll be no rest for the Eurozone in 2017 as elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany could bring more nationalist agendas to the bloc. Debates will undoubtedly centre on immigration with the refugee crisis at the heart of discussions. Any reforms to immigration policy could impact educators’ fledgling efforts to ensure access to education for asylum seekers and refugees. Meanwhile, shaky financial outlooks in Italy and Spain could result in fewer students seeking English language courses overseas this summer.

And though not officially in the Union, the attacks and attempted coup in Turkey have set the country on a path of financial uncertainty as the lira hits an all time low. The year ended with agencies in the country appealing to their overseas language provider partners to maintain 2016 prices and offers through the first quarter of 2017.

Please Brexit this way

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the UK’s Brexit strategy is on this list. Uncertainty remains whether it will be a hard or soft Brexit and what the deal will mean for research partnerships and student mobility. Experts have forecasted that the European Commission will push for a hard landing in order to deter other EU members from pursuing similar exit strategies.

Here’s what we’ll be watching in 2017: what will happen to funding for EU students which is promised by the government until 2018; imminent changes to Tier 4 allowances which could be based on current compliance, teaching excellence framework gradings, exit checks or a combination of all three; if educators finally cross sectorial barriers to unite in promoting the UK as a study destination.

Trump Towers

The Trump presidency will tower over most global events this year but here’s what we’ll be following for its impact on international education. Economists have forecasted that a Trump presidency will provide a short-term boost to the economy speeding up the arrival of a natural recession by 2020. In the meantime, the dollar should remain strong which could put US education providers at a competitive disadvantage. While some stakeholders think Trump’s pro-business stance could be good for education exports, concerns remain that he will tighten immigration policy and curb post-study allowances for STEM graduates.

This on top of the potential harm to the country’s reputation made by Trump’s continued anti-immigrant rhetoric. His election was a shock to global education’s mission of internationalisation so it’ll be up to educators to ensure local communities understand the benefits of attracting foreign talent to their campuses.

Spotlight on security

The US’s standardised testing industry was rocked by a series of investigations by Reuters last year that unveiled widespread cheating and fraud across Asia. Leaked answers to ACT exams in June resulted in the cancellation of the test in Hong Kong and Korea impacting thousands of students. The ACT has closed all but one of its test centres in Korea. Meanwhile, the SAT experienced a massive security breach after rolling out its newly designed test only in March. Both ACT and SAT have promised online versions of the test for the coming year which could weaken already porous security operations. At the same time US educators are beginning to stray away from standardised testing in the admission process in favour of more holistic applications. The SAT and ACT will have to enact stronger security measures to keep cheaters at bay and hold on to university favour.

Reuters also revealed practices of falsifying high school transcripts and writing admission statements for students in one of China’s largest education companies, New Oriental. Test and admission fraud has always been a common threat in international education but with an increased focus on cybersecurity, we expect to see new or evolved admission practices as steps are taken to fortify the application process, and perhaps more interest in the anti-fraud mission of Groningen Declaration signatory organisations.

Gainful employability

Employability’s influence on international student mobility isn’t new. The latest Global University Employability Ranking published by THE show US institutions are held in the highest regard by employers. But in 2016, some big players came forth with proactive plans to provide students with their own tools to appeal to employers. Global pathway provider Study Group unveiled a new career-focused curriculum set to roll out across the UK this year. It will focus on teaching students soft skills and helping them develop a career plan.

Meanwhile, CEO of global student placement organisation IDP, Andrew Barkla, has put career services at the centre of his vision for the company. One of his aims will involve employers in the student journey to help connect them with future talent earlier. Meanwhile Tamwood, an ELT operator in Canada, has launched an entrepreneurship incubator targeting international students specifically. No doubt in the coming year more providers, private and public, will focus their curriculum and toward developing career ready graduates.

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