Guhr is aware of the value of preparatory courses offering international students the chance to assimilate academically and culturally into a new life overseas – and the value of this pipeline for universities keen to expand their international enrolment.
“Now, we have students arriving from Kazakhstan and Peru who can draw on little to no academic or cultural context,” Guhr elaborates, explaining that as the volume of students intent on studying overseas at university swells, so the pathway market will continue to proliferate.
The flow of students into these programmes is only going one way
“The reality is that any further growth will come out of segments [of student populations] that are less prepared,” relates Guhr.
The pathway pipeline, helping students manoeuvre into undergraduate or Master’s level studies from Western universities and sometimes leap-frog a year, is one of the defining trends of the international education sector. The flow of students into these programmes is only going one way.
Guhr’s firm uncovered that 30 per cent of all incoming international students into Canada are coming via a pathway programme of some form, while in Australia, Christopher Ziguras, Deputy Dean at RMIT University and new President at IEAA, observes, “Australian universities have had pathways into undergrad for a long time and now around half of all commencing international HE students have done prior studies in Australia, usually English, foundation or diploma programmes.”
In the UK, the model is also well established. Shane Wilkinson, Managing Director of Bournemouth Business School International, observes that his business school has been providing foundation and pre-Masters programmes since 1995, “longer than most I believe”, with progression agreements established with a number of universities.
BBSI’s success illustrates that the pathway concept is not the preserve of the big corporates, although it is increasingly dominated by a growth in their activity.
A shift in the industry, seen most palpably in the last six years or so, is the rise of “embedded” programmes, offered on campus within a university via a partnership. Dr Vangelis Tsiligiris, industry researcher and senior lecturer at Nottingham Business School in the UK, suggests, “the very existence of these outsourced activities emerged by the lack of capacity, and pro-activeness I would say, of universities to develop these internally”.
“Although the US has a large absolute number of international students, for most institutions a dependence on international students is a new reality”
INTO University Partnerships was a early big private player to crack the nut, with ex-Study Group owner Andrew Colin devising his unique, long-term, business model with Professor David Eastwood, then VC at the University of East Anglia in 2005.
“In essence, the model was designed to allow the university to take advantage of external expertise in terms of student reach but retain full control over all aspects of the academic programmes,” explains Tim O’Brien, VP of Global Business Intelligence & Development.
INTO followed in the footsteps of Australia’s Navitas, which developed its first on-campus college, PIBT, in 1994, but it was a decade later that really saw the palpable growth of “the big five” pathway companies which have been operating in the on-campus space the longest.
Across Navitas, Kaplan International Colleges, Study Group, Cambridge Education Group and INTO, total on-campus partnerships now number almost 100.
In the US, opportunity has really opened up in the last few years, fuelled by a dawning national consciousness that intent is needed around international enrolment and the policy reversal of NACAC in 2013.
“Although the US has a large absolute number of international students, for most institutions a dependence on international students is a new reality,” says Mitch Leventhal, Professor of Professional Practice & Entrepreneurship in University of Albany’s School of Education and Shorelight’s Academic Entrepreneur-in-Residence.
One emerging operator in the pathway scene in the US is Bridge Education Group, although the company has been active in teaching languages in the US and South America for over 25 years.
NCUK pioneered the in-country pathway model allowing students a choice of onward opportunities
President, Jean Marc Alberola, echoes O’Brien’s assertion that a chief motivator in universities considering a partnership is to access the significant marketing reach (and agency network) of established, commercial operators.
While there is an existing, entrenched model in the USA of an IEP on campus – Intensive English Program – “many of those programmes don’t currently live up to their potential in terms of acting as a feeder for matriculating international students, nor do they have an associated international student recruitment team or the requisite budget required to engage in those activities” says Alberola, whose BridgePathways division now boasts 10 partnerships in the US.
The on-campus model comes in many guises, with the partnership extending to running the centre, admissions processes, ensuring integration with the partner university and often delivering the academic content as well as getting the international students there in the first place. In the BridgePathways model, fellow university partners get to collaborate with each other too.
“ESL instruction, a key component of pathway programmes, is not a core competency at many universities”
Whether or not the academic content of the foundation programme is delivered by the partner is an issue that can divide the crowd. When asked why private companies might consider themselves to be better equipped to deliver the pathway, Steve Harvey, Managing Director of Global University Partnerships at Cambridge Education Group, says it is all about focus.
“I used to be an academic and the prize for academics is to be supervising research, teaching on Masters courses and teaching final year undergraduates,” he recounts. “We are unashamed specialists in teaching what we teach; we don’t have aspirations to move into taught-degree awarding powers, we want to be expert at what we do.” In the US, Alberola adds, “ESL instruction, a key component of pathway programmes, is not a core competency at many universities.”
Yet the INTO model, which requires a long-term (typically 25+ years) financial commitment from a university partner as well as INTO to cover investment into infrastructure, recruitment and delivery, believes the responsibility of academic content and delivery should be left to the university itself.
University of South Florida in the US is home to one of INTO’s largest centres, which will welcome around 1,200 students this fall. Roger Brindley, Vice Provost and USF System Associate Vice President for USF World, believes this version of the embedded model is a better use of the word partnership and he questions the use of non-university staff to deliver a foundation programme.
“If the university, in its responsibility to its accrediting agency, has the curriculum scope to effectively teach English language using its own staff, then why wouldn’t it?” he queries. “When we were negotiating with INTO, our faculty came to us and said, ‘we’re an outstanding research-extensive university, we’re proud of what we do, we don’t want a back door to the university’, and there and then we promised them that this would be a second path to the front door of the university.”
Elspeth Jones, UK-based Emeritus Professor of the Internationalisation of Higher Education, has researched the sector and she says that above and beyond the use of credentialed faculty, it is the successful integration of the partnership that can dictate its efficacy; a facet which all operators claim to cherish as a cornerstone of collaboration.