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The changing face of international pathway programs over three decades

During my 30 years in establishing and overseeing international pathway provision, as well as franchise degree offerings, I have personally witnessed significant growth and changes.

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Setting and delivering the academic program in-house enables programs to be aligned with the institution’s educational strategy

Globalisation has increased the desire of many students around the world to hold a degree from a prestigious international University that will enhance their job prospects back home. It has also led to education being recognised by governments as an effective and valuable export.

The growth is also the result of the rise of private education companies which have been able to offer universities a much wider global reach in terms of recruitment of international students as well as preparing students on their campuses.

In my observation, the landscape has become more complex with universities being offered a range of options to support, supplement or replace their own provision. This may come in the form of ready prepared students via pathway programs or platforms for offering sophisticated online courses, digital platforms for effective marketing and recruitment and much more.

Despite the broad offer available, there remain a significant number of institutions that still run their own international pathway programs.

Twelve of these are members of the University Pathway Alliance. The alliance has become increasingly relevant as many institutions have outsourced their international pathway provision as part of student recruitment strategies.

These 12 have retained their own provision, sometimes alongside a partnership – which could be located elsewhere such as London, elsewhere in the city or focused on a different audience – or a partnership around recruitment rather then delivery.

But there is still an appeal for some institutions in running their own programs, opting to keep the teaching of programs in house.

This means academic quality oversight as well as financial considerations such as retaining fee income versus paying out commission.

Primarily, setting and delivering the academic program in-house enables programs to be aligned with the institution’s educational strategy and to be delivered by the institution’s own staff which can engender a different level of confidence in the quality of the program and the student outcomes.

For the student, they are already a student of the host institution and receive full access to all of the support and services available to all students. Ultimately the decision is an institutional strategic decision involving direction around student recruitment, quality and diversity.

As a professional forum, the UPA provides members – comprising leaders and members of departments delivering pathway programs – with a valuable network.

Our yearly workshop/conference and the two recently-established Special Interest Groups (one on AI and the other on a specific type of program) offers connection and professional development.

The most recent workshop hosted at The University of Warwick included experts from the wider sector on the two plenary panel discussions. The focus of discussion and interest has changed over the years.

Initially we shared information on our programs and included student facing events, but over the past few years, we have clarified our mission to focus on supporting leaders and staff as we oversee, manage and deliver the programs.

Our Steering Committees now covers a limited number of core discussions which affect us all, for example, the trends in specific programs and our view of the future of these programs.

“Student outcomes are necessarily the focus and success is measured on that”

The less formal networking enables colleagues to canvas opinion on issues as they arise or to receive insight into new strategy or policy as they explore the viability or applicability to their own context.

A recent discussion resulted in the drafting of a letter template which institutions sent to their local MPs highlighting an issue affecting a specific category of international students.

Other topics have included new collaborations, their impact on institutions and the observation of trends as they unfold, including enrolment patterns and whether these patterns are relevant to a region of the world, institutional or some other factor.

From my personal perspective, quality has always been a key concern of the colleagues I have worked with and the programs I have led. Terminology has changed and the body of academic frameworks and research has increased and developed. Student outcomes are necessarily the focus and success is measured on that.

What keeps me motived, apart from great colleagues, is individual student success stories: how the program has equipped an excellent student from a completely different educational and cultural context to excel in one of our institutions. There are many of these stories; it’s so rewarding.

About the author: Professor Nina-Anne Lawrence is Head of Department and Director of Warwick Foundation Studies (WFS), University of Warwick.  Nina-Anne is a strategic thinker with global experience gained from the UK, China, Germany and the Republic of Ireland. She has expertise in balancing academic quality and superior student experience with the strategic goals and objectives of an organisation gained through roles including Director of Academic Affairs, Director of International Affairs, Head of International Business Development, Academic Director and CEO. Nina-Anne is also the Chair of the University Pathway Alliance and on the editorial board for the InForm Journal. 

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