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Donna Hooker, President, MSM Higher Ed

Donna Hooker is president of MSM Higher Ed, the pathways division of in-country marketing specialist M Square Media. She spoke with The PIE about the in-country pathway model, and how its curriculum is poised to prepare students for studies overseas.

 

Photo: MSM

"There's always a risk that students may not be eligible to travel to another country due to immigration policies or other factors that we have no power or control over"

The PIE: What makes MSM Higher Ed stand out from other pathway options?

Donna Hooker: The MSM Higher Ed Pathways initiative began as a reaction to Covid-19. We recognised it may take multiple years for students and their families to recover from the economic impact. [Over the past year] their economic situation may have changed quite substantially.

This lead us to establish MSM Higher Ed Pathways which offers students an opportunity to begin their studies at, or near home, at local tuition rates, preparing them to gain entry or advanced standing at our founding member partners. This will reduce their time living abroad to earn their international credential, ultimately reduce the overall costs of earning their international credential.

“Students will have other institution and country options… adding a unique safety net”

While there are some similar initiatives out there, the MSM Higher Ed Pathways are supported by M Square Media’s professional services – communications, digital marketing and multi-media, human resources and MSM global recruitment initiatives. These back of house operations are integral to the success of our pathways initiative.

MSM Higher Ed Pathways are pre-approved by founding members. They are unique in that they will lead students to three or four year degree credentials.

The pre-approved articulation arrangements, based on a common curriculum, [means students have] a backup study option to their chosen destination. Let’s say, for example, a student completes a pathway and wants to study in Canada and suddenly learns they are not able to get the study permit required. This student will have other institution and country options to transfer their pathway to, adding a unique safety net for students.

The PIE: In terms of multiple countries, do you put all those students in the same course?

DH: The pathways are classroom delivered at each study centre. The programs are based on a common set of curriculum which prepare students for multiple study destinations. However there are several pathways options for students including: University Eligibility which can include English, Math or Science upgrading necessary to meet entry requirements.

We also offer academic pathway streams in Liberal Arts, Science and Business that will lead students to year two or three of their degrees at founding member partner institutions. We also plan to add Hospitality, Computing and Pre-Masters pathways in the future.

“The [GASS] portfolio becomes their personal reference, preparation and survival guide”

All pathway students will study our Global Awareness and Study Skills pre-departure briefing module (GASS). This module prepares students with the skills to transition to study abroad successfully. GASS is designed so students apply the learning objectives by creating a portfolio focused on their destination institution, city and country. The portfolio then becomes their personal reference, preparation and survival guide.

The PIE: How easy will it be for student to change destination after beginning courses?

DH: Flexibility for students has been a key goal of this project. The initiative will have students declare their destination institution from the start so we can be sure they are studying the right pathway. The pathways curriculum is based on a common core  developed through a consortia. With so many partners, its not 100% perfect and students who change destinations may need to add a course or two, but it is pretty close.

The PIE: Where will the teachers come from?

DH: All teachers will meet the MSM Higher Ed hiring criteria which will include the appropriate blend of education and industry experience in the subject they teach. Classes will be delivered in English, so they will of course need competence in English. The teaching staff will also have support from MSM Higher Ed and will benefit from scholarly visits and engagement with our founding members who look forward to spinoff benefits of sending their faculty abroad for professional development at our study centres.

The PIE: And the study centres haven’t opened yet?

“We actually have fairly ambitious plans to grow to 50 different centres in the coming three years”

DH: We are currently identifying, undertaking due diligence and negotiating with study centre partners and are planning for our first centre to be operational in September 2021. We had planned for seven partners this year in China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, however already we are talking with partners in other countries such as Kenya and Cyprus which were not on our original first priority list.

The PIE: How have you chosen locations – is that driven from demand from partners, or is MSM selecting what it deems good locations?

DH: We actually have fairly ambitious plans to grow to 50 different centres in the coming three years. Some of these centres will be in the same country, of course, in India, which is a massive country. But where and how we made the decisions about where we would get started is we really try to look at where our founding members in destination countries [were], and then we looked at traditional sending countries.

However, we know that there are international students across the globe, so we are also looking at to engage in centres in emerging markets. And eventually we will have centres even in our destination countries for students who need some prep work before they head off to our destination centres as well.

The PIE: Are you also open to more fully in country provisions?

DH: MSM has been a fast moving organisation with lots of vision and I would never say that we’re not intending to do a full graduation from any country in the world.

It is very important that every single student who enters the program has an opportunity to exit with a graduating credential. And we understand there’s always a risk that students may not be eligible to travel to another country due to immigration policies or other factors that we have no power or control over. So being able to graduate from the home country may become important.

However, we are not an institution, we are a matchmaker and a service provider. And we happen to have established, I think, a good quality curriculum that’s been accepted by our partners. We have also established a very strong quality assurance process to ensure that we can supervise the delivery of this curriculum across the globe and can partner to do even more.

“Through our study centres, we will bring  steady flow of qualified students from multiple cities and regions”

The PIE: How will you ensure sustainability in this model beyond Covid?

DH: We have three major stakeholders with long-term interests in this initiative. These include 26 founding university members from Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. These partners share an interest in increasing and diversifying their international student enrolment over the long term.  And through our study centres, we will bring them a steady flow of qualified students from multiple cities and regions of the world. Already we have six founding members, with many in discussion and a few opportunities still available.

Our 50 study centre partners will benefit by [gaining] a new education and revenue stream by introducing pathway programs for international study bound students. MSM Higher Ed continues to welcome expressions of interest to become a study centre.

Lastly, but perhaps most important; students and the parents who generally finance their education are key stakeholders. Students will begin their studies at or near home where they will gain some maturity, become familiar with the expectations of becoming a successful international student and will earn credits towards their international credential a low costs while living at home.

We feel confident this is a winning model that will extend well beyond Covid-19.

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