Pathway providers like Kaplan, Study Group, Oxford International Education Group and others often partner with universities to offer Foundation programs, which are taken in addition to the full bachelor’s degree before it starts.
With International Year Ones – which are separate to foundation courses (a fact that remained unspecified by the Sunday Times) – they are a fast-track, of sorts, for those international students who don’t meet the entry requirements directly for a UK institution in the first instance.
“Degree preparation courses like an IYO can help you reach the level needed to start a bachelor’s degree. It’s a great choice if you’re sure about the subject you want to study.
“After successfully completing an IYO, you progress straight to the second year of a bachelor’s degree, so you save time and money,” the advertisement for Kaplan’s IYOs reads.
One perception that was perpetuated by the Sunday Times article on January 28 was that it essentially offered guaranteed fast-track entry to a UK university with lower grades than domestic students need to enter a UK university.
“They use recruitment agencies to compete for these lucrative students and offer a new way in, outside the Ucas application route — and with far lower entry requirements,” the article said.
Entry is guaranteed, Kaplan’s website says – but only if you pass the IYO course at the “required level with good attendance”.
“There is no guarantee of progression if students do not meet the standards required by the institution,” echoed Jamie Arrowsmith, chief executive of Universities UK International.
Shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, while speaking about the financial health of the UK’s higher education sector on Radio 4 is one to highlight that there are similar options to foundation programs for domestic students.
“There are similar options that are available to domestic students as well,” she said. “Including for people who might have left school without the qualifications that would usually be required in order to gain access to a university course.”
It was also a point highlighted by Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant, in parliament this week, who stated, “British students go straight into a degree course in the first year, but these overseas students referred to are foundation year students who are not on the degree course. They are doing the equivalent of A-level exams.”
The route is offered by an undisclosed amount of members in the University Pathway Alliance, and while the majority of universities work with private pathway providers like NCUK, Study Group and Kaplan, some do deliver the pathway themselves.
Director of foundation studies at the University of Warwick, Nina-Anne Lawrence, also pointed out that the route “offers additional English language input and support, additional study skills development and specific focus on transition to UK education”.
“Having met the exacting standards set, students are able to progress to a degree in an institution of their choice with support to adapt to the UK education system and possibly bridging some gaps they may have in terms of knowledge or language ability,” Lawrence explained to The PIE.
“In certain markets this option is much more appealing than [an International Foundation Program] and degree possibly due to the economy of the country or the local education system – notwithstanding, high standards still need to be met,” she added.
Another stakeholder who remains anonymous also pointed out that it is a pass or fail course – and that the grades that come out of the IYO do not count toward the final degree.
Responding to the PIE’s reaction article to the Sunday Times piece, Daniel Smith, managing director of the Student Housing Consultancy, did however relent that it has “galvanised sentiment that IYO courses offer an easy route to a degree course with low grade boundaries and a direct path to year two for international students”.
“Degree preparation courses like an IYO can help you reach the level needed”
It may well be that IYOs are perhaps more of an elephant in the room – and do need to be examined in greater detail to see if they are actually allowing students in who are not prepared to undertake the degree at that level, but there is not substantiated evidence to prove this is the case.
Additionally, Lawrence noted that depending on the provider, some IYOs are more generic than others. “Those [on that IYO] can progress to a range of degrees in different institutions,” she said.
“Others, on the other hand, will design a program that aligns to a specific institution and is as close as possible to the degree students will progress onto.”
As such, the sheer diversity of IYOs offered would need to be examined further to effectively ascertain where problems may arise.
“I think this is an opportunity, rather than closing ranks, to launch regulated, creative and inclusive solutions that can also help domestic entrants that need additional academic support, to benefit from the same advantages of smaller class sizes and more personalised tuition,” Mark Ovens, business unit director for international education at Studyportals, told The PIE.
It comes after previous comments he made on LinkedIn citing the blurring lines between foundation and IYOs being mentioned in the Times article.
“There is no guarantee of progression if students do not meet the standards”
One current roadblock that won’t allow the sector to tackle this potential issue is that data available on foundation and IYO pathways is extremely limited, Smith noted.
“Now can we please sort out the HE data problem so we can see how bad this problem is?”
Lawrence noted that the programs provide a pathway for ‘talented students” to study degrees in a situation they otherwise wouldn’t be able – “ensuring appropriate diversity in the classroom”.