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Pipeline to progress – how the pathway market is a defining trend in international education

“Pathway tutors may not take (or have) the time to observe lectures, seminars etc in the disciplines for which they are preparing students,” Jones relates. “It would offer a more meaningful, integrated experience if both pathway tutors and discipline-based academics could be given time to understand each others’ work in greater depth.”

Private companies can offer significant expertise in managing diverse enrolments for pathway programmes. Photo: Cambridge Education Group

Across Navitas, Kaplan International Colleges, Study Group, Cambridge Education Group and INTO, total on-campus partnerships now number almost 100

She observes that even with no language problems, issues around adapting to a new learning environment require astute understanding. “Even when the programmes are provided from within the university, pathway teachers are likely to be regarded as not mainstream academics, often exacerbated by their status as Associate Lecturers or equivalent,” she states.

“The reality is that those who work on programmes within universities are specialists both in their field and in working with international students. Academics in other disciplines may have a lot to learn from their work.”

Putting the student first

As well as on-point academic delivery, it is a holistic approach to student welfare that helps pathway students settle and flourish. According to some stakeholders, commercial operators can do this better than university partners. Responding to a general call to comment online, Paul Murphy, a senior teacher at the British Council, got in touch.

“When I worked at Glasgow International College for Kaplan, the most noticeable advantage for students was that the college developed its own community and support mechanisms, including assigning each student their own ‘learning support tutor’,” he recalls. “As part of a university, resources may not permit students to have access to such individual support.”

Navitas underlines an active use of alumni to help Navitas newbies acclimatise in-country. With 9,000 students per year graduating to partner university programmes in seven countries, it has finetuned the socialisation aspects of its offer.

“All players agree that what is required is a whole-of-faculty buy-in to the partnership approach”

James Fuller, Group Manager Corporate Affairs, notes that in Australia, where Navitas HQ is based, “we have many domestic students enrolled in our classes (about 20 per cent), and they also take an active role in getting to know our international students and helping them to assimilate.”

Entente cordiale

All players agree that what is required is a whole-of-faculty buy-in to the partnership approach. James Pitman at Study Group, acknowledges, “Most of my time is spent working with the senior teams at these HE institutions”.

Bournemouth Business School International notes its 20-year experience and offer is drowned out by the massive corporate players in the marketplace

Bournemouth Business School International notes its 20-year experience and offer is drowned out by the massive corporate players in the marketplace

And Harvey at CEG underlines that being a commercial company which comprises staff drawn from academic origins can be a plus in getting partnerships off the ground in the first place.

“Our Chief Academic Officer, our Deputy Chief Academic Officer, our Academic Equality Unit – all drawn from academics,” he says. “We use their language, we welcome external examiners, external scrutiny.. it’s vitally important.”

New to the scene

With a range of well established players in the pathways sector, setting up a new brand and portfolio of partners might seem a daunting task, but that is just what Shorelight, a new privately-owned operator in the US, has done.

With a senior management team that invested in the company (including a former Senior Vice President at Kaplan) alongside investment via executives at Sterling Partners, Shorelight emerged in 2013. It signed three partnerships in its inaugural year and is now up to six in the US and one in the UK. CEO, Tom Dretler, previously CEO of Eduventures, says this is a pivotal time for US universities to reposition themselves.

“There’s roughly 3 million students studying outside their home country in the world and about 77 per cent of them rank the US as either highly favourable or the place that they would most like to study,” he explains. “We look at that and say, why do we only have 800,000 students? It seems like an unnaturally low international student percentage.”

“The way that we’re being innovative is that we actually have that collaboration happening between our academic English and our faculty members”

He says many US institutions have until now “been making their programmes available to that thin veneer of the already prepared” and Shorelight aims to be innovative in how to reshape that funnel, using predictive analytical models and tools to best identify and then place students on Shorelight programmes at various partners.

There are other newer operators building significant links in the on-campus world, but with the singularity that they operate under-the-radar, without co-branding a foundation programme or venture. QA Higher Education is one such operator, working with UK universities to run branch campuses or foundation programmes.

Another is EduCo, backed by Baring Private Equity Asia, and steered by another senior exec with a good view on global education, Joff Allen. An Australian, Allen was formerly with Campus Group International Education Services (before it sold to ACT in 2005) and saw the rise of its product, Global Assessment Certificate, delivered in 16 countries and recognised by over 110 universities as a university preparation programme (enabling conditional admission).

Launched in 2010, EduCo chiefly operates in the USA, Australia and Canada, either via owned-and-managed campuses, running joint-venture branch campuses or partnering to build a pathway pipeline.

Allen explains that on campus, EduCo is a white label partner who doesn’t take over admissions, but is actively marketing in source countries via its 18 offices to present pre-screened students to partners. When talking to agents and embassies, the staff are EduCo’s, but on campus students don’t see the company name. “We take a difficult negotiating piece off the table by saying to the university, ‘this is all about you’,” relates Allen.

Home-grown programmes

While new operators are peppering the landscape, some universities are choosing to go it alone. University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, ranked in the world’s top 40 of universities, is agenda-setting in being a prestigious institution focused on doing more to diversify by building its own pathway college.

Joanne Fox, Principal and Academic Director at UBC’s Vantage College, explains that the Senate-approved plan to build Vantage College was in part “to create a space where we could be innovative with teaching and learning”. All of the courses are credit-bearing, even academic English, which is taught with content and language integrated.

Providing preparation for a Western degree to students in their home country is also growing among private providers

“The way that we’re being innovative is that we actually have that collaboration happening between our academic English and our faculty members,” explains Fox. “What that means is the academic English instructor visits the physics class and then delivers an academic English support hour that’s specific to the physics class.”

The college has a clear mandate to enable a previously untapped cohort to thrive at UBC, Fox underlines, with UBC utilising its existing global reach and beginning to work with agents “quite cautiously”. New facilities and residences were built “on a cost-recovery basis” to ensure no cannibalisation of existing pipelines or infrastructure.

In-country provision

Providing preparation for a Western degree to students in their home country is also growing among private providers. As well as delivering pathway programming on campus and in London, (enabling a choice of onward progression), Kaplan International Colleges prepares students in China and Japan for onward study and two years ago, expanded this model to Lagos, Nigeria specifically for a number of US universities.

“For us it is just trying to look at different segments of the pathway market,” says Cowan. “We recognised that you do get younger students where parents would obviously prefer them to do their pathway at home and then do the degree overseas.”

She adds that university sponsors like the concept because for those that don’t progress, it is a much more cost-effective filter than having them return home from overseas. This year, Kaplan added to its offer in Lagos with a global foundation programme feeding into five partners in Australia and the UK.

Kaplan teaches 7,000 students across its UK, Australia and US pathway footprint and Cowan notes that a further 5,000 will be studying within Asia at Kaplan’s Singapore school but on a pathway into a Western degree delivered in Singapore.

Other “in-country” options include the Global Assessment Certificate which is taken annually by more than 4,000 students, delivered in 16 countries. According to spokesperson Katie Wacker, 90 per cent of GAC graduates are intending to study in the USA at one of 60 pathway universities.

For the UK-bound, NCUK is a well established and expanding option which was in fact formed at the behest of the Malaysian government in 1987, offering pathway routes for qualified students in business & engineering into UK universities.

Standing for Northern Consortium UK, NCUK continues to represent universities in Britain’s north only, and around 3,000 students annually study with NCUK, via 30 delivery partner centres, with 70 per cent moving on to undergraduate study and the rest considering pathway options for year two entry, full degree completion in China or postgraduate entry to NCUK partners.

Georgina Jones, business development director at NCUK, considers the operation to be without rival. “Students also benefit from our unique placement service,” she says. “At foundation we offer a choice of 3,000 multi-disciplinary degree options, two guaranteed conditional offers and one guaranteed place (if the student passes).”

“We give students the option of making their university choice after they arrive in the UK rather than while sitting in an agent’s office in their own country”

She asserts that the students learning in-country are a stand-alone market segment. “Typically, we find that if the family can afford to come to the UK, they will send their son or daughter – one reason why we’re growing our own UK provision to allow the students to benefit from the same NCUK guarantee and variety of choice students who stay in-country get.”

Spoilt for choice

Choice for the student is an interesting concept in this domain: offering choice is one of the main aces up the sleeve for the independent, non-campus based operators against the smooth marketing message of the embedded operations where integration can begin from day one.

Wilkinson back at BBSI in Bournemouth asks, “Are these progression agreements in the best interests of students (or just in the best interests of the providers)? Should students commit to a specific university via a specific pathway provider if they could do better through hard work on their pathways course?”

Yet he acknowledges that despite a 20-year track record and 500 students successfully placed at over 80 unis, “Our guarantee, solid as it is, gets drowned out by the massive corporate players in the marketplace”.

But, there are more emerging entrants keen to tap into the potential of pathways and vaunt the value proposition of students having freedom of choice. This trend, too, is inevitable. “We felt that with our expertise in personalised, student care and our systematic approach that we would be able to deliver a viable and attractive alternative model to on-campus provision,” says Stefan Green, head of UK-based Unicentres, new baby sibling of Eurocentres.

He underlines, “We give students the option of making their university choice after they arrive in the UK rather than while sitting in an agent’s office in their own country.”

Will more choice mean more confusion? Education agents remain imperative in this market and they need to maintain students’ best interests as diverse pathways proliferate. Tina Bax, Founder and President at Canada’s CultureWorks, runs a private company delivering on-campus pathways at six Canadian universities. She concedes that now, “The recruitment box has just got so noisy and we all struggle with channel noise.”

But she anticipates even more new twists in this space, via technology delivery and mutual recognition of pathways. She cites Brescia University’s new Go Anywhere programme, a foundation programme offering academic credits which students can take and then choose to enroll at other Canadian institutions. “Registrars don’t know what box those students fit into for admissions!,” she says applauding the “forward-thinking, student-centred mentality”.

“We need to see more strategic alliance,” she says, challenging other stakeholders to really find out what international students want. “That’s what we all want to do, serve students, that’s why we’re here.”

  • This article is an abridged version of the original which is in the latest issue of The PIE Review.

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8 Responses to Pipeline to progress – how the pathway market is a defining trend in international education

  1. I guess the biggest question is how much better are these pathway graduates performing in their degree programs as opposed to those who do not participate in pathway programs who just attend the traditional IEP programs.

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