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The PIEoneer Awards 2017 – which innovators made the shortlist?

Like many great ideas, The PIEoneer Awards began with a “Hey, what if…” comment around a late night dinner table. After a long day, in a foreign city, at one of many international education conferences, several members of The PIE team were debriefing and decompressing over pasta and wine. We considered our place in international education – a field that feels so tangible at those events.

The Gherkin will be the venue of The PIEoneers after-partyThe Gherkin (pictured) will be the location of The PIEoneer Awards after-party. Photo: Roger Harris Photography.

The 12 award categories received more than 300 entry submissions from 39 countries

“I knew we wanted to showcase the projects and achievements that we get excited about every week in our coverage on The PIE News,” says managing director Amy Baker. “But I also wanted us to be a connector, to bring together the exciting people that we all know, but who might not know each other.”

A first-of-its-kind awards event that honoured efforts around the globe and at every level of international education was the vision that came into focus in the months following that team supper.

Creating categories that did justice to the all the sectors’ players was a mighty task. “PIEoneer of the year and outstanding contribution were in straight away, but the others took a few more drafts,” Baker comments.

The end result was 12 award categories, which received more than 300 entry submissions from 39 countries. A shortlist was combined by The PIE, and sent to a distinguished panel of judges representing many sectors including higher education, consultancies, student networks and student accommodation. And here is the line-up of the finalists:

PIEoneer of the year

This flagship award is open to any individual or organisation that has improved some area of international education, be it through an idea, a mission or a concrete activity.

For this category, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency’s accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning, a credit transfer system for Malaysian MOOCs and 2u2i – a program that offers undergraduate students two years of industry exposure – has been shortlisted.

“I also wanted us to be a connector, to bring together the exciting people that we all know, but who might not know each other”

Also in this category is the International Alumni Job Network based in Hong Kong and Vietnam – a professional network of universities and students that has grown to over 100,000 international students and alumni in just over 12 months.

And the third contender is the Global Leadership League – a women’s leadership development group that aims to address the significant gender challenges that exist within international education. “We have data to support that women are promoted less often due to hiring bias and also due to deficiency in strategic skillsets,” says Cynthia Banks, a member of the executive team at GLL.

Marketing campaign of the year

Thanks to social media, many of the campaigns in this category were self-proclaimed ‘low budget’ including Loughborough University’s #LBoroFamily Road to Rio campaign to highlight the UK university’s strengths across sport, research, team spirit and graduate success stories in the build-up to the 2016 Olympics.

Also from the UK, the University of Sheffield’s #WeAreInternational campaign has sparked a nationwide movement to promote the country as an open and welcoming place for students to study with videos. The campaign has influenced the international student debate and has lobbied the UK government to remove barriers preventing them from studying in the country.

Acknowledging that study abroad enables students to “grow up”, ETS launched the #TOEFLGrownUpMoment campaign which focused on both Chinese students’ and parents’ viewpoints as they leave home – the video was shown in over 110 countries via social media platforms.

And in Australia, Study Queensland’s #summerlifeqld campaign awarded 20 full scholarships to international student ambassadors from 10 countries, who then studied in the state and chronicled their experiences online. The campaign became the primary driver of visits to its website and reached 13 million people.

Student support award

EduNova is a contender for this award, which honours initiatives putting students and their concerns at the heart of operations. Its ‘STAY in Nova Scotia’ program helps international students to live, work and stay in the province post-graduation. “We want to see these students well connected, living and thriving in a place that they can call their ‘home’,” explains Jennifer Wesman, retention coordinator at EduNova.

Also in Canada, Morneau Shepell, a HR services and tech company, is a finalist with its International Student Support Program. The ISSP provides 24/7/365, on-demand mental health support for international students via an app and was developed in response to a prevalence of mental health issues and low help-seeking behaviour among students.

“We have data to support that women are promoted less often due to hiring bias”

And from the UK, Big Choice Group’s International Student Admissions Service provides a free call-back advice service for students who want to study abroad but need support and guidance through the process in 10 languages, in 90% of time zones, with a 24-hour response time. 

Accommodation provider of the year

Accommodation is becoming as competitive and wide-ranging as the education sector it supports. Here we showcase providers who demonstrated high levels of service aimed at international student satisfaction starting with MyStay International. Operating in the US and Australia, this homestay provider has diversified to develop a new booking platform for standard room rentals.

Meanwhile, the University of Sheffield’s accommodation service offers guaranteed flexible starts for those dependent on a visa offer, residence mentors trained in mental health first aid and catering improvements.

Another institutional provider, the University of Sydney, has invested in new buildings, ensuring below-market rents and doubling interest-free loans.

Education agency of the year

Reliable and informative education agencies are vital to the sector and our shortlist includes Global Reach in India, which has engaged with governments on pilot visa trials and shows a commitment to improving standards in southeast Asia.

UKEAS in Nigeria advises students on study destinations including Turkey, China and Mauritius and has been hailed for its exceptional commitment to service standards in an unpredictable business climate.

And European agency ESL expanded its global footprint last year to include nine new offices and launched its own awards program honouring its partner schools based on feedback from ESL staff.

Championing diversity award

Champions of diversity have made efforts to widen participation in international education to include low income students, ethnic minorities and first generation students.

For this category the Institute of International Education’s Generation Study Abroad program has been shortlisted for its goal to double and diversify the number of US students studying abroad by 2020 and, among other activities, for a scholarship program encouraging those to go abroad who wouldn’t otherwise. “Given the changing landscape of student demographics in US higher education, IIE sees it as a priority to address the gap in participants,” notes Lindsay Calvert at IIE.

“We want to see these students well connected, living and thriving in a place that they can call their ‘home’”

Australia’s New Colombo Plan is also supporting efforts to send more domestic students overseas by enhancing knowledge of the Indo-Pacific region. In 2017, the scheme supported 7,400 mobility students and 105 scholarship recipients.

Meanwhile in the UK, Cambridge English Language Assessment has launched a raft of initiatives to help refugees and asylum seekers gain access to English language education, including a MOOC and ESOL classes for parents.

And International Students House champions diversity by working with education partners and enabling students from developing countries to study in London, offering free accommodation and sometimes food bursaries to supplement scholarships.

Progressive education delivery award

This award celebrates teaching methods that are bold and brave, but most importantly, effective.

The Nepal Innovation program from Abari in Nepal and Laika Academy in Australia is designed to bridge a divide between students in developing and developed nations through small scale community building projects.

Another partner-delivered program, this time between WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, in Germany and social enterprise Bookbridge, the General Management Plus Program fosters social entrepreneurship. Participants deliver a sustainable learning business for a rural community in Cambodia, Sri Lanka or Mongolia.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Open University has also been shortlisted for its English in Action program created to help classroom teachers in Bangladesh improve English tuition delivery and enhance their communicative abilities. The recognition through The PIEoneers shortlist means it was “able to tell an important and bright story of a new generation of learning in Bangladesh in contrast to often negative news coverage,” explains Matthew Foster, director of the International Development Office.

International alumni of the year

In this category, we learned about Malaysian student Aizan Sofia Amin who studied at the UK’s University of Glasgow. A bone cancer survivor who lost a leg aged 16, Aizan undertook a PhD in Disability Studies and is now a leading expert and advocate for disability in Malaysia.

Also shortlisted is Dunya Alruhaimi from Iraq who studied at the University of New England, Armidale in Australia. In response to an extremist attack in Iraq, she started volunteering extensively at UNE and across the Armidale community to help build intercultural awareness. “Educators should aim to build an army of ambassadors who will develop many aspects in their local community in the future,” she comments.

“Educators should aim to build an army of ambassadors who will develop many aspects in their local community in the future”

Saudi Arabian student Hani Choudry is also one of the finalists. Choudry studied an MSc in Molecular Medicine at the University of Sheffield, then a DPhil in Clinical Medicine at Oxford. He is now head of the cancer biology unit at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia.

Association of the year

Here we asked: What makes an association vital to its membership?

In China, the Beijing Overseas Study Service Association has focused on improving the professionalism and ethics of the industry through its China Education Agent Course.

Also shortlisted is the American International Recruitment Council which has been a strong advocate for the use of education agents in the United States as it strives for transparency, ethics and integrity in international education.

EduNova from Canada is also a finalist for this award, recognised for its STUDY and STAY programs as well as its EduNova Airport Welcome service, government-funded fam tours for agencies and targeted digital media marketing for members.

And Australia’s ISANA has been shortlisted for its efforts to improve the lives of international students in the country through input into key government strategies and policies, such as projects addressing housing needs and access to free legal aid.

Public / private partnership of the year

Partnerships between private sector operators and publicly-funded institutions can help drive growth and improve the services international students receive.

From the UK, CEG Digital’s partnership with Falmouth University to deliver five flexible part-time master’s programs aimed at in-work professionals makes the shortlist.

They are joined by Kaplan Open Learning’s 2007 partnership with Essex University to deliver distance-learning undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Meanwhile, Sannam S4’s partnerships with HE players around the globe have been highlighted particularly for its market entry services which have helped 40 clients improve visa offer rates and achieve notable surges in qualified student interest.

Digital innovation of the year

Be it online, blended learning or software to improve student services, we wanted to spotlight the most useful digital solutions in international education.

“International education has to become more flexible and inclusive in order for it to reach as many people as possible”

A learning management system available in eight languages, offering blended cross-cultural learning as a supplement to study abroad experiences, the Global Competence Certificate by Sentio makes the shortlist.

So does Duolingo’s English Test which is available on demand, from anywhere in the world, and at a low cost. It is already used by 90 universities and institutions.

Finally, the Erasmus Student Network’s student-led initiative, MappED!, is among the finalists. The platform features an interactive online map providing disabled students with detailed accessibility information about European universities and cities. “International education has to become more flexible and inclusive in order for it to reach as many people as possible,” says Thomas Pappas, MappED! web project coordinator.

Outstanding contribution to the industry

Finally, we recognise those who have influenced the industry in a transformative way.

Contenders include Antonio Anadon, president of Ideal Education Group, who has built up include the significant Don Quijote and Enforex Spanish language learning brands in Spain and Latin America.

Markus Badde, CEO of ICEF, who has helped bring ”credibility and quality” to student recruitment via ICEF’s diverse products including workshops and agent training initiatives is shortlisted.

And Jon Kolber, president of ILAC in Canada, who has built a buoyant education brand and integrated charitable ventures into ILAC’s mission joins them.­­

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