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How is the UK pathway sector evolving? More focus on integration, TNE, transparency

Pathway programmes in the UK are evolving and benefitting from consecutive years of experience in preparing students academically and emotionally for life at a university overseas.

L-R: Photo: Carolyn Walker, INTO at the University of Exeter; Pater McLaughlin, ONCAMPUS London; Linda Cowan, Kaplan International Colleges; Amy Baker, The PIE. Photo: The PIE News.

“You can’t hide from your own performance as a pathway provider. How those students perform once they’re in university is transparent"

A focus on pathways with a TNE twist, delivered in-country; better student integration on campus; and increasing sector-wide support for transparency of data around student progression and success were trends to be picked out of a panel discussion on pathway providers that happened this week.

On a panel reflecting on “a decade of partnership” between universities and private companies at OBHE’s annual conference in London this week, results of a “Pathway Census” undertaken by i-graduate of the top five operators in the market was also unveiled.

Between Kaplan, CEG, Study Group, INTO and Navitas, around 23,000 students are coming into the UK to study at pathway level, revealed Kaplan International Colleges’ Linda Cowan, on the panel chaired by The PIE’s Amy Baker.

Cowan underlined that KIC sees pathway preparation in-country as a major growth opportunity, and a “defensive move” to futureproof against any further tampering in UKVI regulations.

“We’re proud that last year we brought in 4,500 students to the UK to do pathway programmes, but we had a similar number that are either doing a pathway course on one of our transnational campuses in Hong Kong or Singapore,” she said.

The company is growing its provision of in-country pathways in China, Japan, Nigeria and the Middle East.

This is also in response to a trend of students wanting to enter pathways at a younger age, Cowan added.

“A lot of families are saying well, if [students] can do the pathway programmes in my home country, there’s obviously a price advantage in doing that, [and] actually they would rather their son or daughter stays home for another year,” she explained.

“There is a quality to quantity tension, and that’s something that remains a challenge”

“Also, a number of sponsors say they wanted to use this as a filtering process to make sure students they send overseas will be successful.”

The pathway model also now incorporates a greater focus on metrics of student satisfaction and success throughout students’ university careers, the panel heard.

“In the last decade, pathways have gone from quite a novel concept to a more sophisticated model of working with universities,” said Cowan. “You can’t hide from your own performance as a pathway provider.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 15.12.23

Photo: INTO

“How those students perform once they’re in university is transparent,” she continued. “That should get fed back to the pathway provider and be used in academic enhancement activities.”

Better use of data on student success has led INTO at University of Exeter to introduce more lecture-based delivery in order to acclimatise students to university teaching styles, through greater dialogue with other university departments, Carolyn Walker revealed.

One factor that can impair students’ performance at university is a tendency among some students to become complacent once they have entered the partner university “and think ‘I’ve done it, I’ve got there’”, Cowan noted.

And post-transition support can be key to tackling this, Peter McLaughlin, centre head of CEG’s ONCAMPUS London, said. At his centre, which transitions students on to a range of university partners and is not an “embedded” model, CEG continues to offer support and sessions for students during their first year of continued study.

Student integration and support is a key facet of student success; “You can’t underestimate the challenges our pathway students face – they have to move overseas, upskill, and gain language skills,” noted Walker.

Friendship groups established during pathway programmes can actually hinder integration, Cowan revealed, citing a study Kaplan had undertaken with partner universities in Glasgow and Brighton.

“That was actually creating some barriers to the integration of international students once they got into university, because we’d taken away that incentive to expand their network,” she revealed.

Because of this, KIC has introduced peer mentoring to help students to integrate on campus.

“That was creating some barriers to the integration of international students, because we’d taken away that incentive to expand their network”

Despite the challenges, there are significant opportunities for continuing growth in the global pathways market, providers agreed.

“Because every country has a different education system, there are bound to be gaps in students’ knowledge before they embark on a degree either in the UK or the US, so there’s plenty of opportunity in helping students prepare,” Walker commented.

Looking at where this growth may come from, providers must be aware that “there is not a China replacement”, and are likely instead to grow numbers through small increases from a number of different markets, said Cowan.

“That’s part of our mission statement as well, to bring diversity,” added McLaughlin, noting that many partner institutions are using pathways to move beyond a dependence on China.

Diversifying subject provision also presented room for growth, noted Walker, who has seen an increase in pathways preparing students for STEM fields after an initial dominance of business courses.

Photo: Kaplan International Colleges

Photo: Kaplan International Colleges

Social sciences and humanities may be areas of future growth, she predicted.

All the pathway providers on the panel agreed that they worked very closely with their partner universities and did not in fact compete but cooperate to support direct enrolment strategies of partners too.

Recruiting students who will succeed and progress remains the core challenge to the business model, which does look set to expand, particularly in the USA, panellists attested.

“There is a quality to quantity tension, and that’s something that remains a challenge,” commented Walker, who related that University of Exeter saw a dip in incoming international students via INTO since the IELTS tariff was raised by the university.

“I think this is quite difficult to manage operationally for the business,” she said.

McLaughlin noted that pathways an exceptional opportunity to help promote Brand Britain for the UK HE sector. “By flying the flag we can sustain our position, but it’s becoming increasingly more challenging,” he said. “We really have to show that willingness to give students a really caring education, a meaningful education, and be purposeful so that they can qualify with true strength as global graduates,” he said.

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