Reimagine Education: how do we measure success in higher education teaching?

“There is little doubt that the main role of higher education is to produce educated people… but its effectiveness is chronically hard to pin down”

Martin Ince, Chair of the QS Global Academic Advisory Board, writes about how we measure success in higher education teaching.

What is higher education for? The answer depends on who you ask. For researchers, universities are the place where new knowledge is generated. For politicians, they are vital sources of innovation and economic growth.

But there is little doubt that the main role of higher education is to produce educated people. Students may leave university with a degree that opens up a lucrative and satisfying profession, or they may have improved their minds rather than their earning power. They may be 21 or 91. But in either case, the key to their university experience is how well they were taught and how much they learned.

The only problem is that it is tricky to see how well this vital function of universities is being carried out. Higher education is still provided largely by “destination” universities using time-honoured teaching methods. But these techniques now exist alongside distance learning, and blended methods that use a mixture of these approaches. But whatever combination is in use, its effectiveness is chronically hard to pin down.

“This issue is especially salient for us because of the impossibility of measuring teaching and learning on a global scale”

I chair the advisory board for the QS World University Rankings, and this issue is especially salient for us because of the impossibility of measuring teaching and learning on a global scale. Even within the UK, it is captured only indirectly, by surrogates such as student satisfaction. This does not work internationally, because a course that satisfies someone in Chicago might not go down well in Seoul. And we are well aware that despite the validity of traditional methods, teaching is being transformed by new approaches and new technology.

This is why QS was delighted to back the suggestion by Professor Jerry Wind, director of the SEI Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a member of our advisory board, for a global competition to recognise innovative approaches to teaching in higher education.

The Wharton-QS Stars Awards 2014: Reimagine Education has assembled a distinguished panel of judges from around the world to examine evidence-based claims for innovative approaches to higher education pedagogy. They welcome evidence of distance, presence and blended approaches to teaching, from any type of institution and in any subject. There may also be awards for the top innovations in specific regions or in subject areas.

A specific feature of Reimagine Education is that entrants have to show that students feel the benefit of the innovations they have made. They are encouraged to complete a student survey to prove the claims they make for their improved pedagogy.

We are sure from the response so far that Reimagine Education is timely. Please do spread the word about it, and consider entering yourself. The inaugural awards will be presented at a major conference at Wharton in December, and publicized heavily by QS and Wharton.

There is more about the competition, and our motivation for launching it, at www. reimagine-education.com. The site also has entry details and the timetable.

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International education as an industry: “only talent that has truly been educated is an asset to an economy”

“Teaching and learning is not an industrial process; it is a human endeavour with all the triumph and tribulation that comes with it”

Hanneke Teekens, Chair of the Board at AFS Intercultural Programmes in the Netherlands and former member of the board of directors of the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC), writes on attitudes towards international education, asking how helpful it is to approach it as an ‘industry’.

Over the years I have resisted the term ‘ the industry’ when referring to the internationalisation of higher education. Perhaps because I am a non-Anglo, coming from a tradition of public and affordable higher education that is seen as a non-commercial good. But ask any person in the street what is meant by ‘the industry’ and nobody would come up with international higher education. In other words, it is an in-crowd term in ‘our circle’ that is best avoided with a wider audience.

Moreover, using this terminology denies the specific context of education. Producing knowledge, to stay with the vocabulary of the market, is built upon a relationship that involves teaching and learning and not one of selling and buying. Education requires personal involvement of both teacher and student. A student must want to learn. The affective part of learning is the first step and requires an attitude of curiosity and engagement. In international education even more so.

Sure, diploma mills can sell a diploma and they do, but that does not mean anything has been taught and learned. Education is an intrinsic cultural and social good, with clearly a strong economic impact. Teaching and learning is not an industrial process; it is a human endeavour with all the triumph and tribulation that comes with it. Universities have a long tradition of imbuing society with critical thinking and innovation. It is essential for our industrial society to acknowledge that autonomous role.

“Universities have a long tradition of imbuing society with critical thinking and innovation. It is essential for our industrial society to acknowledge that autonomous role”

Education is not for free and neither is it cheap. Some parts of the world have capacity issues and declining enrolment of home students in other countries makes the inflow of foreigners an attractive option – on the one hand to help battered finances, but also to enhance the quality of education.

Moreover, international graduates are considered important ambassadors and increasingly are seen as potential immigrants to strengthen the workforce. Talent is on the move and there is no denial that economic considerations are a top priority. But only talent that has truly been educated is an asset to an economy. Hordes of people with a whole list of impressive degrees, but with no competencies to deal with globalised working and living conditions will feel frustrated and so will business and industry. More research on how to improve the relevance of international education for the international workplace is clearly needed.

“Hordes of people with a whole list of impressive degrees, but with no competencies to deal with globalised working and living conditions will feel frustrated and so will business and industry”

I write these lines high above the clouds from Amsterdam to Brazil, where later this week I will present at the Faubai conference in Joinville. My workshop concerns the impact of international student mobility on the home institution. The main question addresses the curriculum. How do we prepare all graduates, both home and international, to deal with globalised working and living conditions?

I kill time and read a whole stack of papers and journals. One article really catches my attention. The headline is ‘From Communism to Catholic school’ , by Kyle Spencer. (International NY Times, April 8, 2014). The accompanying picture shows us a pensive 18-year-old Di Wang, one of 39 Chinese students at a suburban school in New Jersey. The article informs us that Ms. Wang wants to continue to go to college in the US but will remain an atheist. At the same time the director of the seminar that teaches the basics of Catholicism comes to the conclusion that unless you know about Jesus it is going to be really difficult. Fortunately Di Wang sometimes prays to thank God for a beautiful day and the DePaul Catholic High School receives a wonderful fee.

In the end Ms. Wang sums up her learning experience as ‘do good, avoid evil’. It is an insight that Confucius came up with centuries before the Catholic Church even came to exist. More importantly, or downright worrying, is the fact that Di Wang may never be aware of this.

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HE marketing in a digital age: ‘it’s not so much about the channels that you use, it’s about the questions that you ask’

“My favourite case study is about the University of Nottingham in 2010, before the UK general elections… Almost every article about the election in the significant UK media quoted a University of Nottingham Politics department faculty member”

US higher education marketing expert Michael Stoner talks to Gerrit Bruno Blöss about how universities market themselves in an age of digital technology and social media. Michael Stoner is author of ‘Social Works’, a book about social media marketing in higher education.

Your book features more than two dozen case studies of universities employing social media in their marketing. Which one of those examples is your favourite, and why?

My personal favourite is the one about the University of Nottingham. In 2010, before the general elections in the United Kingdom, they saw an opportunity to position the staff of their Politics department as expert commentators. There are three reasons why that case study is so interesting.

First, none of the things that the University of Nottingham did would be far beyond the scope that an expert PR publisher in 1985 would have done, except for the fact that they used a blog, Twitter, e-mail, and YouTube, which of course did not exist in 1985. A lot of the conceptual framework for the campaign was based on sound PR practice. You identify the people that you need to reach out to and how to reach them, and then you work the channels. It’s different today than in 1985 because we are operating in a different timeframe, but the basic PR principles still hold.

Secondly, they were very careful in identifying the outcomes that they were seeking. They were very SMART in setting goals – measurable, achievable and realistic – and they blew all their goals out of the water. They wanted to involve four Politics department faculty members, and they actually involved eight; they wanted 20 pieces of international coverage and they achieved 466… Almost every article about the election in the significant UK media quoted a University of Nottingham Politics department faculty member.

“If you are thoughtful about the way you construct the campaign, the effects can be even more far-reaching than the original goals”

A third reason is that the campaign had significant impact not only because they achieved their goals – but they demonstrated that if you are thoughtful about the way you construct the campaign, the effects can be even more far-reaching than the original goals. You could say that achieving a 15% bump in applications is significant, and it is, but, in a university environment, having other faculty members look to your department as a success is a really significant achievement that is hard to measure.

This case study shows that it’s not so much about the channels that you use, it’s about the questions that you ask, the needs you have. That’s basic marketing 101.

In some of the case studies, the reason for using social media for marketing was to build the brand while keeping expenses low.

Social media is often about keeping the external spend low. One of my frustrations with higher education and some of our colleagues is that they look at an external spend as a cost, but they don’t view staff time as a cost. To me, as a business person, it’s a huge cost. If I have a developer who is working on an internal project and not working for a client, then that’s a real expense to me, we’re losing income. Just because the higher education institution is booking revenue in a different way than we do it doesn’t mean that staff time shouldn’t be seen as a valuable asset and looked at in the entire picture of costs.

“If I have a developer who is working on an internal project and not working for a client, then that’s a real expense to me”

That’s one of the big challenges when we talk about accounting for these projects: if you’re really using social media effectively, people will be spending time on it. That’s time that they’re not going to be able to do other things. You have to recognise that. If you don’t, the project is not going to be as successful as it otherwise would be. So the advantage of a project like the one at the University of Nottingham is, of course, they had a fixed timeframe; it’s easier to run a project like that because the expenditure of staff time happened in a much shorter timeframe.

How much does a typical US institution spend on marketing?

That’s a very difficult question to answer. I was on a state university’s campus recently and they had a study done that indicated that the institution was spending US$71 million on marketing. But when you looked at the budget that was controlled by the university’s central marketing unit, the spend was about $3 million. What’s the right answer? I can’t really tell you. That institution is having a struggle now how to answer that question. And this kind of fragmented marketing organisation is really typical for universities in the US, but also internationally.

Do you see differences in the approach to social media between Anglo-Saxon countries, where education is expensive for the students, and “cheaper” countries like Germany, where institutions rely more on state funding than tuition fees?

“You want to build buzz around your institution because you want better students… perhaps you want to be the Harvard of Germany”

Many institutions that aren’t very concerned about marketing in terms of recruiting or fundraising are interested in social media because their focus in marketing is to enhance the brand value of the institution, so marketing is focused on the brand. It’s not related to student recruitment or fundraising. That’s something where social media could be very important and an essential tool. You want to build buzz around your institution because you want better students, even though you are as affordable as any other university – but perhaps you want to be the Harvard of Germany.

Gerrit Bruno Blöss is a Valuation & Business Modelling consultant with Ernst & Young in Stockholm. He assists clients in business plans, financing and business valuations, especially in the technology environment.

This interview was first published by CHIP.DE in German – read the original here.

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No longer should languages be dismissed as ‘soft skills’

“As business becomes increasingly borderless in years to come, the language skills and cultural competencies of our business leaders will become critical to our economic health”

Gary Muddyman, CEO of Oxford-based translation agency Conversis, discusses the language skills crisis facing the UK and explains why he believes languages should no longer be seen as a ‘soft skill’.

Last month, I was invited to address The All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages session on behalf of the Globalisation and Localisation Association (GALA), a global trade body representing 27,000 language service providers. I took the opportunity to deliver an important message: the deepening language skills shortage is affecting UK competitiveness abroad. In order for UK businesses to continue to trade successfully in coming years, the nation’s attitude to languages must change.

No longer should languages be dismissed as ‘soft skills’. It is essential that languages are intertwined with the core STEM skills driving the global economy. As business becomes increasingly borderless in years to come, with languages other than English likely to become the lingua franca, the language skills and cultural competencies of our business leaders will become critical to our economic health. Without language the global economy simply can’t function; monolingual cultures will lose out.

It was estimated recently that the language skills deficit costs UK £48bn a year (3.5% of GDP)

The crisis in language education in the UK is well documented: 2013 saw a 40% drop in universities offering language courses and the number of UK students taking language A-Levels hitting an all time low. It was estimated recently that the language skills deficit costs UK £48bn a year (3.5% of GDP).

Whilst the UK is finally making some steps in the right direction (for example, with languages becoming a compulsory part of the curriculum for primary school children aged seven plus from September) I believe this to be too little and too late. It could take between 20 and 40 years in all reality for teachers to be trained, youngsters to be taught and for business people with the right combination of language skills and cultural competencies to emerge to lead our businesses.

At present we simply do not have the linguistic talent in this country to even fill the jobs that currently exist. My business is based in rural Oxfordshire, but only a handful of my staff are British nationals and have come through the British education system. This is for no reason other than we find candidates from Europe generally have stronger skills in the required areas.

However, the point I would like to make is that it is not just the Language Service Industry that has cause for concern here; the language skills deficit is set to affect British competitiveness abroad generally. Considering the seriousness of these consequences it is surprising there is less awareness of the problem or action being taken to address it.

“it is not just the Language Service Industry that has cause for concern here; the language skills deficit is set to affect British competitiveness abroad generally”

Whilst it remains an uphill battle, it is good to know that there are several strong initiatives out there currently making headway. These include ‘Languages for All’: a strategic effort, spearheaded by the University of Maryland and supported by the British Academy to widen language learning, resulting in an advanced language proficiency in the workforce. There is also what has been dubbed the ‘Global Talent Program’, spearheaded by GALA and primarily sponsored by Manpower Group. This sets out to create an environment in both the UK and US where business and education work together toward job growth and economic competitiveness.

Should you be interested in reading more about the language skills deficit and the opportunities and challenges facing the Language Services industry, you can download a PDF of my presentation to the APPG here.

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The UK does not have a God-given right in the international student recruitment market

“Our bellicose rhetoric and criticism of UK immigration policy is simply picked up and repeated in the press overseas as criticism of the UK and of our universities”

Vincenzo Raimo, Director of the International Office at The University of Nottingham, writes about how poor lobbying tactics can damage the UK’s reputation abroad, and the complex factors impacting on Indian students’ decision to study in the UK.

Thank goodness the University of East Anglia’s Edward Acton, who said that Home Office rhetoric on immigration was having “a horrible, negative effect” on international student recruitment, is on his way out. But how do we stop other Vice-Chancellors going on about visas as if they’re the only reason numbers are down from India?

Steve Smith (Exeter) did the same last week at the British Council’s India partnerships’ event. A great way to encourage partnerships – tell prospective partners that our visa processes are rubbish and that they won’t be let into the UK. One of the main reasons for the fall in international students coming to the UK from India and some other (although certainly not all) countries is down to the very public and poor lobbying tactics of Acton and others in some UK universities. Universities need to recognise the reality for politicians of the immigration debate and work with them for the sector’s benefit. Our bellicose rhetoric and criticism of UK immigration policy is simply picked up and repeated in the press overseas as criticism of the UK and of our universities.

“One of the main reasons for the fall in international students coming to the UK from India and some other countries is down to the very public and poor lobbying tactics of Acton and others in some UK universities”

It’s true that some immigration policy changes – and in particular, the timing of those changes – in recent years have made it harder and more costly for universities to recruit students (and staff) from overseas, but not all of those changes have been bad. Minimum English language requirements and having to know that our students are really with us and making progress are surely among the positive changes; and the need for financial checks before students come to the UK has significantly reduced student hardship and tuition fee debts levels.

As well as asking some of our Vice-Chancellors to shut up on this topic (at least so publicly) they’d be well advised to consider other factors which have had an impact on the downturn in students coming from India to the UK, such as increased competition locally and internationally – including UK TNE (the UK does not have a God-given right in the international student recruitment market – there are other options), and in particular the falling value of the rupee against the pound, which has significantly increased the cost of studying in the UK.

“the UK does not have a God-given right in the international student recruitment market – there are other options”

Elizabeth Shepherd of the British Council gave an excellent presentation on factors impacting on Indian students’ decision factors at yesterday’s UK-India Partnerships event). Her research shows clearly that there are many factors impacting on Indian students’ thinking about overseas study UK visa policy was not the top factor impacting on their choices.

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There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ international strategy

“You can’t assume that your domestic marketing strategy can be applied internationally with the same level of success”

Dan Sommer, Education Marketing Expert and President of Global Education, Zeta Interactive, considers some of the challenges university officials must consider when building effective regional strategies.

Over the past 12 months, universities have experienced declining enrolment numbers for a variety of reasons: demographic shifts; an improving economy; increasing competition from both for-profit institutions and more traditional schools; and the influx of disruptive technologies and learning platforms. University officials are now tasked with looking at creative ways to counterbalance declining domestic enrolment numbers.

In the past, university leaders have been forced to consider things like adjusting discount rates or modifying quality standards to meet financial objectives when tackling declining domestic enrolment. Now, however, increasing international recruitment is a meaningful alternative to consider and one that we see as a top five priority for most university leadership teams.

Going international represents an opportunity for institutions to maintain tuition while counterbalancing declining numbers, but it presents an array of challenges to marketing and admissions teams. You can’t assume that your domestic marketing strategy can be applied internationally with the same level of success.

There Is No Such Thing As A ‘One Size Fits All’ International Strategy

When expanding to international markets, it is important to understand the regional differences that might impact your success. Developing an awareness of how your brand will fit in different regions is key. Further, some regions are more price conscious then others and may require differential pricing or scholarship options to overcome financial barriers. Thus, as you develop an international strategy, the first step is to dive deep into the educational landscape of the country you are entering.

“As you develop an international strategy, the first step is to dive deep into the educational landscape of the country you are entering”

Finding the Right Product Market Fit

A number of factors should be considered when launching particular programmes. For example, there are regions that have truly embraced online programmes (the UK), while others take a more mixed position (Canada). Yet others do not currently recognise or support online learning (certain regions in Asia). In developing your strategy, understanding both consumer and government acceptance of online learning is key. Based upon what you uncover, you might consider a strategy that focuses on a hybrid model with some classroom learning and some online, or a or periodic campus immersion experience with the majority of learning online, with limited face to face campus time. I have seen the latter be highly effective for South American recruitment.

Institutions should also consider whether additional contact hours or local student support is needed to enhance the learning experience. If your programmes are taught in English and you are in regions where English is secondary, you may need to deploy additional tutors to offset the potential learning gap.

“It’s important to consider whether your programmes are fully relevant to local conditions and economies”

Finally, it’s important to consider whether your programmes are fully relevant to local conditions and economies. While the MBA is currently the most popular programme internationally, each region may have preferences regarding specialisations (e.g. entrepreneurship vs. Islamic Finance). It is dangerous to assume that the programme that works so well in the US will work equally as well in every region.

Selecting The Right Marketing And Recruitment Partners

In an ideal scenario, it would be possible to generate all of your international inquiries within your marketing department or with your existing partners. The reality is there are many nuances to local student recruitment. For example, if you plan to recruit students in Russia and CIS, selecting a partner with Yandex experience is key. If you are utilising email marketing services, does your partner understand local privacy regulations? There are thousands of new media outlets to consider, from local, SEO-driven education directories to highly targeted regional publications that the right partners can introduce into your marketing mix.

Further down the ‘funnel’ are call centre partnerships (locally and with regional expertise) that can play an important role in qualifying traffic. US institutions often attempt to call new web leads within 120 seconds, but this may not play well in some regions. Language and tempo may also need to be altered on a regional basis and can be the difference between success and failure in new markets.

The Devil is In the Details

Last, but certainly not least, is the question of whether your institution has the operational infrastructure to qualify and enrol international students. Often, institutions create separate units to manage lead flow and applications from international students. Developing the infrastructure that will allow for the proper vetting of candidates (e.g. understanding whether local credentials meet admissions standards, language qualification, and even consideration of prerequisites) can be highly complex.

In addition, local currencies and exchange rates could present a number of challenges for your finance team. Many institutions consider outsourcing aspects of the enrolment process, which can help to reduce some of the complexities.

Dan Sommer is an education marketing expert. He is the President of Global Education at Zeta Interactive,  a leading digital marketing company that helps global brands to acquire, engage and retain customers. Dan has helped dozens of universities to innovate and achieve success through innovative marketing acquisition, retention, engagement and partnership programs. 

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Homestay: the make-or-break part of a student’s study experience

“A school can provide PhD-level teachers, gold-plated desks, a perfect nationality mix, and 100% graduation rates. None of that matters if the student is getting what looks like dog food for dinner”

Cam Harvey, owner of Working With Agents Consulting, writes about the importance of open and honest communication in a strong agent-school partnership – one that always puts the health and strength of their relationship first.

“I’m fascinated by the stories in international education. And there are stories out there. Lots of highly emotional stories.  Each one often has multiple, emotionally charged versions depending on who is telling it – the school, the student, the parent, or the agent.

One of the biggest story generators is homestay. There’s the one about the student who couldn’t find the toilet paper in the bathroom and instead of asking the homestay mother, calls his mother back home from his cell phone in the bathroom. The mother calls the agent in a rage wanting to know what kind of school would place her son in a homestay that doesn’t use toilet paper. The agent calls the school and demands that the student be moved out of the homestay family immediately. The school calls the homestay mother wondering what the heck is going on. Totally perplexed, the homestay mother knocks on the door and tells the student to look under the sink.

Obviously some stories have morphed into urban myth.

Nevertheless, homestay is the make-or-break part of a student’s study experience. A school can provide PhD-level teachers, gold-plated desks, a perfect nationality mix, and 100% graduation rates. None of that matters if the student is getting what looks like dog food for dinner.  Of course, that “dog food” might be the family’s famous Thursday night turkey stew lovingly made each week and served around a warm and welcoming family dinner table.

A professional and experienced agent-school partnership will work together quickly to establish the real story and come up with a practical solution. What do other students say about the family’s meals on past surveys? Or, on the agent side, were the student’s parents particularly demanding in the counselling process?

Open and honest communication between the agent and the school will likely reveal that the problem is not the food but something else entirely. Whatever the problem, a highly evolved and effective agent-school partnership will find a solution that puts the health and strength of their relationship first. Even if that means, regrettably, moving a student out of a perfectly good family.

“Open and honest communication between the agent and the school will likely reveal that the problem is not the food but something else entirely”

No two students are the same and similar situations might require different solutions.  How have you dealt with a difficult student situation? Tell me about how you found a novel solution by working closely with a key agent partner, whether it was a problem with a homestay, in the school, or anything else related to the student’s experience.

My hope is that your stories inspire other schools and agents to raise their level of cooperation, professionalism and trust with each other.”

You can contact Cam through the team at The PIE or by visiting www.workingwithagents.com

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Tighter regulation in Canada will act as a seal of quality for international students

“The new act will be a key protector of international students’ rights. It will make all institutions, both private and public, accountable”

The International Education Act was given royal assent Canada’s the Manitoba legislature last month. Susan Deane, college director and principal of the International College Manitoba, a Navitas pathway college, explains how the legislation will help bolster quality by making institutions accountable.

“In 2012, the Canadian International Education Advisory Panel recommended increasing Canada’s international student numbers from 265,000 to more than 400,000 within 10 years.

Though progress has been made in recent years, the size of the Manitoba international student population still lags behind other provinces. British Columbia, for instance, accounted for 25 per cent of Canada’s international student population, while Manitoba claimed only three per cent.

Now, thanks to new legislation, the province of Manitoba has the leverage to attract more students from around the world by demonstrating that international education in Manitoba is of the best quality and is maintained by stringent standards: Bill 44, the International Education Act, was given royal assent in the Manitoba legislature Dec. 5. The legislation will act as a seal of quality to show prospective international students and their families that Manitoba provides education worth investing in.

The International Education Act would establish a code of conduct for institutions that educate international students, creating consistent high standards across the province. This will set requirements on recruitment methods, course quality and student supports, and will aim to prevent misleading or deceptive conduct in relation to international students.

It will also mean that an education provider must be approved to enrol international students. Lists of non-complying providers and recruiters will be made public.

Accountability has always been a top priority for the International College of Manitoba (ICM), and for this reason we welcome the International Education Act. ICM has a recognition agreement with the University of Manitoba whereby it offers the equivalent of first year university on the University of Manitoba campus to international students in a supportive environment. Upon successful completion, students enter second year in regular classes at the University of Manitoba. This soft landing helps students move successfully to a Canadian learning environment.

ICM has more than 850 students, and we’ve educated students from more than 72 countries. A further 825 students have completed the ICM program, 95 per cent of whom have been admitted to the University of Manitoba. These are high-achieving individuals worthy of our support.

“Canada has long lagged behind other top international education destinations in the regulation for international students”

The new act will also be a key protector of international students’ rights. It will make all institutions, both private and public, accountable — something Navitas, ICM’s parent company, has been doing for many years.

Canada has long lagged behind other top international education destinations in the regulation for international students. The International Education Act will start to elevate Manitoba to international standards, building the province’s reputation as a high-quality education destination.

As the flow of international students into Manitoba increases, the creation of an industry benchmark for international education, and the protection of student’s rights, will become ever more important.”

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Accreditation for an independent, single-site language school: the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages

This week, the deadline passed for the US’s Intensive English Programs to be accredited in order to issue student visas. Nate Freedman, Campus Director at Boston-based Language Skills, gives a first-person account of the accreditation process of an independent, single-site language school. 

James Stakenburg, Head of Teacher Training at Rennert, recently presented his case study of going through the accreditation process (The PIE News, October 25), stating that “the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages”. And as the accreditation deadline draws closer, we are continuing to hear from both members of the accrediting bodies and the schools they accredit on the challenges and benefits of accreditation.

From the perspective of an independent, single-site language school, where administrators and faculty already “wear many hats”, adding the task of accreditation, which requires a comprehensive review of the entire program, poses so many challenges that during the application process the potential benefits of being accredited can seem distant and unattainable. Throughout our journey to accreditation, we asked ourselves many times: will the advantages of accreditation really outweigh the disadvantages?

Well, now that Language Skills has received initial accreditation with CEA, the benefits are becoming clear, and I can begin to reflect on the question of whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Advantages: Our faculty loves the improvements to the program. Clearly written syllabi and curricula with relevant course goals and student learning outcomes make their jobs easier and more enjoyable. Improved faculty orientation and ongoing professional development provides greater job satisfaction. Upon hiring our newest instructors, we heard a lot of, “wow, I am so impressed with how organized you guys are!”

Students also enjoy the increased structure and relevancy of their courses, and it allows us to market the program with greater confidence. No longer do we believe our quality is on-par with international and multi-site programs, but we have evidence to show it.

Disadvantages: Along with being a language school, we can’t forget that we are also a small business! Maintaining a healthy small business requires the careful allocation of resources, and finding the resources to go through and now maintain accreditation was and continues to be our biggest challenge. Mr. Stakenburg admitted that Rennert “took someone off their regular job full-time for three months and most staff had extra work to do as well” to prepare for accreditation. We too had to find creative ways to meet the demands of accreditation with limited resources.

Yet, as I’m sure many of The PIE News readers can attest to, working with limited resources is not something only schools of our size and model face, and that all US language schools facing the December deadline of accreditation will see unique challenges and benefits.

In our case, accreditation has already opened new marketing channels and increased employee and student satisfaction, and we have managed to do it all with our own internal resources. It appears that Mr. Stakenburg’s claim was right: even for independent, single-site language schools like ours, the advantages of accreditation still outweigh the disadvantages.

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Are pig trotters the best we have to offer China?

“Providing young people with opportunities to live and work in the UK is likely to do far more to build an appreciation of ‘British norms and values’ than bungled conversations between the prime minister and Chinese officials”

“Nothing says ‘declining international influence’ like heralding a deal to export pig semen and trotters as ‘doing all we can to ensure that businesses up and down the country reap the rewards from our relationship with China’.

In the week that David Cameron led the UK’s largest ever trade visit to Beijing, new research by IPPR shows the UK has a much better export offer to make.  China sends out more international students than any other country in the world. And as China’s economy grows, so does demand for international education.

Using such trips to encourage more Chinese students to study in the UK would be a ‘win-win’ for China and the UK. The UK’s education sector is globally renowned. But its funding structures are in a mess. Billions of pounds in student loans are likely to go unpaid. Last week the government had to stop some universities offering places to UK students due to a lack of funding. The government pledged in the autumn statement to lift the overall cap on UK students in 2015. But there are serious question marks over how this will be funded. In this context, international students provide vital revenue. The Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) estimate that they contribute over £13 billion to the UK economy each year, generating 70,000 jobs and keeping courses like maths and engineering viable. And there is room for growth: BIS estimates that the number of international students in UK higher education can increase by 15-20 percent over the next five years. In addition, providing young people with opportunities to live and work in the UK is likely to do far more to build an appreciation of ‘British norms and values’ than bungled conversations between the prime minister and Chinese officials.

Yet we heard nothing from David Cameron about this. The UK’s competitors, such as Australia and France have streamlined their visa processes and put together packages such as improved work rights to entice globally mobile Chinese people to study in their institutions. But the UK has done the opposite. The UK’s ‘post-study work’ route was closed in 2011. Application requirements have been made more convoluted. Education providers are being forced out by the cost of meeting strict regulations. Despite significant global growth, the overall number of international students coming to the UK to study has dropped from 245,000 a year in 2010 to just 176,000 a year.

The Government claims that the lower numbers are a result of tough action against ‘bogus students’. But the Home Office’s own analysis shows that ‘bogus students’ only account for a small part of this reduction. Rather, the reductions in student numbers are because of the government’s commitment to reduce net migration to the UK. International students comprise one third of all immigrants to the UK. In order to reduce immigration, the government have to drastically reduce the number of international students. While there is an argument to be had about reducing migration for other reasons, reducing the number of genuine students is directly against the UK’s best interests and is causing profound damage to a vital export industry. Importantly, this is an issue on which government, the education sector and public all agree on: 68% of British people want to see the number of migrants coming to study at UK universities maintained or increased.

The government faces a difficult problem balancing support for the education sector with responding to public concern about immigration. However, the policies the Coalition is pursuing are achieving neither. Instead, the government need to commit to increasing international student numbers by implementing a package of measures to attract the brightest and best while clamping down on abuse and ensuring that students contribute to life in the UK. Not to mention, promoting the UK’s colleges internationally. This will allow the UK to retain its reputation as a world leader in quality education, as well as provider of porcine products.”

Jenny Pennington is Researcher at IPPR. She tweets at @JennyIPPR

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