The future of Ireland’s English language industry

“A student’s main question when asking us about Ireland now is ‘Is the school going to close?’ and ‘What guarantee can you give us?’”

Graham Gilligan, Managing Director of Welcome Ireland, writes about how Ireland’s recent spate of private colleges has eroded trust in the market and how the Irish government can work to rebuild trust among prospective international students.

Many people will now be familiar with images from Ireland of shocked students and teachers milling outside a locked college door with a note pinned by management announcing an overnight closure. Students may have paid up to €6,000 for a course which they had barely or not even started. Teachers may have had salaries withheld for weeks, even months.

Ten private colleges, mainly catering to English language students, closed in a period from April to November 2014. 2015 began in similar vein, with the Dublin-based A2Z School of English shutting its doors abruptly last month.

These stories have reverberated throughout the industry, damaging the country’s reputation as a leading destination to learn English. Potential students who were considering work and study in Ireland are very cautious and have now started to look at other ‘safer’ options such as the UK, Malta, the US and Canada.

“Potential students who were considering study in Ireland are very cautious and have started to look at other ‘safer’ options such as the UK, Malta, the US and Canada”

A large question mark

Once, when observing that a school had ACELS (Irish government) accreditation, the student felt at ease and believed that recognition from the government was a sufficient barometer for gauging the trustworthiness of a school. Unfortunately, some of the ‘rogue’ schools that closed down had also had ACELS accreditation, along with professional websites and high-quality brochures. Eden College, the biggest to close, even employed Ireland’s former Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe as its president.

“Eden College, the biggest to close, even employed Ireland’s former Minister for Education as its president”

Because of these recent events, ACELS recognition now does not have any relevancy as it is quite obvious that it does not guarantee quality in all departments of a school, only the academic department at best. This leaves a large question mark over what can be done to instil trust in potential students wishing to work and study in Ireland and how they can feel safe investing in an English language course.

A new government policy, currently on hold for revisions following a High Court challenge, was set to restrict English language study visas to courses accredited by ACELS. The series of closures prompted a move bring in the new Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP), even as some colleges continued to await the outcome of their ACELS applications. This could have had the effect of offering some clarity in the marketplace to non-EU students by weeding out ‘rogue’ schools whose business model was based on low-cost, low-quality one year academic programmes mostly aimed at South American students. However, genuine schools were also feeling the effects of this ‘one size fits all’ approach and the current policy limbo offers only uncertainty. Potential students cannot easily assess what Ireland can offer or which schools they can trust and which they cannot.

Current problems

An on-going and fundamental problem is a lack of regulation and transparency. This results in some schools operating with little or no regulation and the ability to accept course fees with no concrete refund policy or learner protection. There is still no official system in place to assure potential students who want to work and study in Ireland that if a school closes down or their visa is refused, their money will be safe.

“An on-going and fundamental problem is a lack of regulation and transparency”

From an agent point of view there are major distinctions between ‘rogue’ schools and trustworthy EFL colleges in Ireland, but unfortunately it can be difficult to convince a student who is quite understandably wary of all colleges. As an agency that regularly sends students to work and study in Ireland, Welcome Ireland has seen a considerable drop in inquiries and a student’s main question when asking us about Ireland now is “Is the school going to close?” and ” What guarantee can you give us?”

Unfortunately, a large number of ‘rogue’ and visa scam schools still operate. In several cases, they have been quick to re-employ key staff behind the closed schools, though some continue to work in the industry using ‘adjusted’ versions of their names and other means of obscuring their histories.

Such schools may now have an irreparable reputation in such countries as Venezuela and Brazil, but now we see expansive promotional and recruitment campaigns in Europe with flashy websites and low prices aimed at undercutting quality schools but still offering sub-quality courses in questionable premises.

“Such schools may now have an irreparable reputation in such countries as Venezuela and Brazil”

More recently, some schools have also been aggressively targeting Nepalese and Pakistani students for such courses as business management, nursing and accounting. These courses generate more in the short run, potentially allowing a school to ‘haemorrhage’ as much money as possible before closing. Courses may be marketed and promoted before they even exist.

Most people in the industry are aware of these schools and campaigns from such bodies as the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) are doing a fantastic job to advise students to check a school’s credentials and base their choice on pending reforms and prospective inclusion on the ILEP list. However, more needs to be done from the government to offer guarantees to potential students.

The Future

It has been recently reported that there has been a 10% increase in incoming students to Ireland but the future still remains cautious.

An anticipated government ‘quality mark’ for colleges – the International Education Mark – is planned for roll-out from 2016. In the meantime, a government-sponsored or third-party ‘escrow system’ might be the best option to rebuild trust. This would mean that the student could transfer payment for a course to a secure third party or government body with necessary documentation being provided such as proof of payment. The student will then be able to apply for the visa and if granted, the money can then be forwarded to the school, possibly on a drip-feed, month-by-month system, instead of all funds being transferred. If the visa is refused or the school closes down, the money goes directly back to the student, allowing them a means to continue their studies in another English language school.

“In the meantime, a government-sponsored or third-party ‘escrow system’ might be the best option to rebuild trust”

Colleges themselves also need to adapt, develop innovative search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies and be consistent in their marketing and brand campaigns to differentiate themselves from rogue schools. Colleges must also emphasise their strengths such as facilities, range of nationalities, academic departments and generate positive ‘word of mouth’ through testimonials and blogs.

For students who want to work and study in Ireland, only with such steps will they feel confident in the system and choose Ireland as their destination of choice.

www.welcomeireland.ie / www.welcomeireland.eswww.welcomeireland.ru/

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How the UNC shooting demonstrates the value of multiculturalism

“I truly believe that exposure to different cultures and belief systems is what’s going to make this world a peaceful place and stop the kind of hatred, ignorance, and intolerance that led to the murder of Our Three Winners”

Madison Heginbotham is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also the Local Committee President for AIESEC, an international youth-led non-profit that works towards the mission of peace and fulfilment of humankind’s potential by facilitating a global exchange programme and providing practical leadership experiences.

The vigil held at the University of North Carolina in honour of the Chapel Hill shooting victims. Photo: Ever Castro

The vigil held at the University of North Carolina in honour of the Chapel Hill shooting victims. Photo: Ever Castro

I worked backstage of the vigil that was held on the University of North Carolina’s campus the night after three students- Deah, Yusor, and Razan- were killed.

Even though all I did was pass out tissues and keep people from crossing under stanchions, simply being present, in a crowd of thousands, was an indescribable experience. So many community members had gathered to support one another and celebrate the lives of Our Three Winners; you couldn’t see the end of the crowd in either direction. There was just a sea of candlelight that stretched throughout the heart of campus.

“Members of all faiths, nationalities, races, age, and communities came together as one, proving that there really can be beauty in darkness”

As words of courage, peace, and strength passed over the crowd from the family and friends of the victims, I never felt more proud to be a UNC Tar Heel. Members of all faiths, nationalities, races, age, and communities came together as one, proving that there really can be beauty in darkness.

Campus has most definitely felt different since that Tuesday. A mix of both heartbreak and inspiration. Heartbreak: over the lives lost, the hatred and intolerance behind their murder, and the loss felt by all those whose lives had been touched by the victims. Inspiration: from the selfless lives they led, the amazing strength of the family they left behind, and the community’s ability to band together through tragedy.

As a UNC student, I’m shown every day that people of all walks of life can thrive together. Having worked event production for our Student Union, I got to see the beauty of cultural and religious events attended by such a diverse range of students. Most students go to show support of their friends performing or simply to learn more about a culture outside of their own.

“Having internationals in our classes and student organisations brings a new perspective to the world around us”

We also have a high number of students studying abroad here at UNC. Having internationals in our classes and student organisations brings a new perspective to the world around us.

This kind of global mindset and tolerance is why I’m so passionate about the organization I’m a part of, AIESEC. I truly believe that exposure to different cultures and belief systems is what’s going to make this world a peaceful place and stop the kind of hatred, ignorance, and intolerance that led to the murder of Our Three Winners. I truly believe that exchange, cultural immersion, and celebration of our differences is what’s going to prevent anything like this tragedy from happening again.

And that is why I dedicate so much time and effort to AIESEC, and why AIESECers in general are so driven. We know that change starts with people. It doesn’t start with policy changes. It doesn’t start with more laws, or heightened security, or angry fights between cultures and belief systems. It starts with the individuals, with the community, with the mindset that is able to love our differences rather than fear them.

“Change starts with the individuals, with the community, with the mindset that is able to love our differences rather than fear them”

Even in death, the impact of Our Three Winners’ lives continues. Thousands who didn’t even know them in life, including myself, are inspired to carry on their legacy. They are proof that love and kindness, in the end, is stronger than hate. This proof is what has been prevailing on this campus and the campuses in the Raleigh-Durham area.

I’m proud to see that fellow Tar Heels have been focusing on the good of Our Three Winners, rather than the bad of a single man. The voices and hearts from the thousands are speaking louder than the gunshots from one.

 

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President Obama dazzles India to strengthen US-India ties

 “If the US is to continue to innovate, develop and flourish, it needs to not only recruit the brightest and best, but also the bold and the brave”

Adrian Mutton, Founder & CEO of Sannam S4, a company providing market entry and ongoing support services to international universities and skills providers in India, Brazil and China, writes about the recent US India CEO Forum and Business Summit that demonstrated an unprecedented willingness for collaboration in HE.

Adrian-Mutton_wwwWhen new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US in September 2014, he received a rock star welcome. He was greeted by a full house of adoring fans at Madison Square Gardens in New York and President Barack Obama gave the Indian Prime Minister two days of his time to talk about building better US-India ties and to personally show him around Washington, DC.

To return the compliment, President Obama was invited as chief guest to India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26th.

Arriving into New Delhi on Air Force One, as the President stepped off his plane onto the tarmac, he was greeted by Narendra Modi with a bear hug.

“The gesture, broadcast around the world, was a clear affirmation that the two leaders have developed a special personal relationship in a very short space of time”

The gesture, broadcast around the world, was a clear affirmation that the two leaders have developed a special personal relationship in a very short space of time. During the two day visit by President Obama, a nation of 1.3 billion people was gripped with the coverage of his every move, suggesting India’s population has also taken to the US President.

The key agenda points tabled for discussion included nuclear collaboration, climate change, increasing trade flows, visas and IPR protection. Leading up to the visit, a number of HE and skills related topics had also been promoted to both the White House and India’s Ministry for External Affairs (MEA) for discussion.

I was fortunate to have been invited to not only participate in the high level US-India talks at a summit held in New Delhi, hosted by both President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, but I was also delighted to have been asked to provide direct input into President Obama’s briefing. Inputs which were included in his final discussion points with Prime Minister Modi and senior US and Indian business leaders and officials, I later learnt.

My inputs were focused on explaining the type of support US universities, skills providers and mid market companies needed to succeed in India. I highlighted the need for a strong platform which dealt with the red tape, bureaucracy, compliance and tax issues faced by organisations when entering India. I highlighted challenges in recruiting good staff, establishing offices and knowing who to collaborate with locally and how to build sustainable partnerships – and, of course, raised the issue of the many “grey areas” around dual programs, tax on local activities and the now rather stale issues surrounding the foreign education providers bill.

“I highlighted the need for a strong platform which dealt with the red tape, bureaucracy, compliance and tax issues faced by organisations when entering India”

Drawing on case studies of institutions we proudly support at Sannam S4 in India, including the University of Bridgeport, University of South Florida, DeVry and MIT to name a few, I set out the vast opportunities these institutions faced and then detailed the specific challenges that hindered their progress.

Presenting Sannam S4′s LaunchPad model as an example, I explained how a strong local supportive environment can help US universities and skills providers flourish.

The US has made good strides of late with its visa policy and the processing of student applications. Unlike some other countries (no names needed!) recruiting Indian students, the PR surrounding studying in the US is positive and as a result its number of applicants is on the rise. The US recognises that Silicon Valley has been built on the brains of Indian students, the engineers across the US are from towns and villages across the subcontinent and that if the US is to continue to innovate, develop and flourish… and own the intellectual property and the rewards that go with it, it needs to not only recruit the brightest and best, but also the bold and the brave.

The US is not just seeking Indian students to become lawyers and bankers, accountants and actuaries, it is seeking to attract entrepreneurs, innovators and risk takers. This is a clear distinction between the US approach to student recruitment and policies adopted by election sound byte focused politicians from other countries.

“The US recognises that Silicon Valley has been built on the brains of Indian students”

The US has recognised that it is also not just student recruitment that is important to help foster long term ties between the two countries. The US India Educational Foundation (USIEF) in New Delhi, for example, led by its impressive and long term Executive President Adam Grotsky, who has decades of experience in India and a deep understanding of the culture and what makes for strong and sustainable ties between the US and India, is doing a sterling job on educational exchanges of scholars, professionals and students. USIEF has awarded approximately 17,000 Fulbright, Fulbright-Nehru, and other prestigious grants and scholarships in almost every academic discipline to promote long term bilateral ties.

The US administration has been working hard on supporting skills development programmes in India with its community colleges and is leveraging the funds available from the Indian government’s corporate CSR ruling to contribute towards new regional training initiatives.

The increasingly influential US India Business Council (www.usibc.com) has a dedicated education and skills group which is fostering bilateral institutional relationships, particularly those with a commercial interest. With its incoming President Dr. Mukesh Aghi having a particular passion for educational ties between the two countries, I expect to see the USIBC’s focus in this area strengthen.

So after all the razzmatazz of President Obama’s visit, what was achieved on the higher education and skills development front?

Frankly, despite the excitement, the visit was unfortunately short of news grabbing headlines for the sector.

“Despite the excitement, the visit was unfortunately short of news grabbing headlines for the sector”

An exception was confirmation by President Obama that the US is to send 1,000 academics a year to India, something which had been discussed during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the States last year and is not an insignificant initiative.

The central government sponsored Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN)
aims to give Indian students and academics access to 1,000 US faculty per year, to broaden their horizons, exchange ideas and teaching methods and foster new research collaboration and partnerships.

There was no shock announcement regarding the Higher Education Provider Bill (despite some advanced lobbying during Secretary John Kerry’s visit to India earlier in the month), so no foreign owned campuses for now. There was no public discussion regarding India’s powerful University Grants Commission (UGC) and how it governs international partnerships, so nobody in the sector missed anything by not being tuned into the visit.

What was clear, however, was that the visit encouraged an unprecedented willingness for collaboration between the two administrations. A number of key initiatives have been tabled, several of which are taken from Sannam S4′s own contributions, which will now be pursued and monitored over the weeks and months ahead, so despite the lack of headlines, I am positive about what this visit will achieve mid to longer term.

“The visit encouraged an unprecedented willingness for collaboration between the two administrations”

The future of US-India ties for universities and skills providers has strong support from the highest level of both governments. It has the enthusiasm of Indian students, scholars and business leaders and a focus from the Indian administration on addressing red tape and the complexities of operating in the market. Institutions in the US will have no doubt seen the coverage of the visit at home, reminding them of India’s vast potential.

A touch of realism and pragmatism is still needed of course, but I came away from the visit, truly believing that the stage has been set for a new era of US-India collaboration. For many India has been a frustrating market (particularly when compared to China), fraught with the challenges I have highlighted above. However, I expect to see many exciting opportunities develop over the months and years ahead, which, if well supported in India, will bear rich fruits. The bold and the brave, both institutions and students, will likely be rewarded.

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The new destinations for Nigerian students

“Nigerians are traveling further and wider in search of new experiences and better education”

Anthony Ajibosin, CEO of 3AG education agency in Nigeria, writes about why more Nigerians are opting to study abroad and how their destinations of choice are changing.

Nigerians place a high value on education, especially in the last three decades. Studying and gaining a degree is seen as a matter of pride within the family and community. However, the 129 universities in Nigeria cannot cater for the demand of the higher education needs of the more than 15 million people of tertiary school age (or can they?). There has been increase in demand for foreign education, which initially could be attributed to the constant interruption of academic sessions within the Nigeria higher education sector as a result of industrial actions.

But wait a minute – we have about 50 private universities in Nigeria that are not affected by strikes, so why still study abroad? To get a better job? The growing number of working class families, the middle class and the traditional saying ‘the best legacy you can give to a child is education’ has seen to the increase in student mobility: the search for better education, internationally recognised degrees and the ability to become a global player.

“The best legacy you can give to a child is education”

The United Kingdom has always been the destination of choice; this can be linked to historical ties between Nigeria and the UK, distance (6 hours direct flight), world recognition of UK qualifications and, of course, having English as the language of instruction. According to a UNESCO report, over 17,000 Nigerians studied in the UK in 2012, while 6,807 studied in the US, Canada had 2,031 Nigerians and Australia had 398.

Though the UK is still the most popular destination for Nigerians, we are witnessing an increase in the US, Canada and Australia as study destinations. This shift could be attributed to the immigration laws of these countries. The UK as a study destination started experiencing a decline after the withdrawal of the automatic post study work visa. The opportunity for work experience and ability to stay back for a bit in the host countries is enticing to middle class families, according to the UNESCO 2012 report on the Global Flow of Tertiary Level Students: ‘As demand for education rises, mobile students explore new destinations’. So Nigerians are traveling further and wider in search of new experiences and better education.

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Education in East Asia – by the numbers: UK TNE partnerships in China

“There is a large amount of variation between the strengths of the different Chinese partners involved in UK-China TNE programmes, even with the same UK institution”

The following is an extract from the British Council’s Education in East Asia – By the Numbers report, ‘Taking a closer look at the performance of UK universities in forming TNE partnerships in China’, written by Kevin Prest, Senior Analyst at the British Council in China. The British Council’s Services for International Education Marketing (SIEM) team helps UK institutions refine their internationalisation strategies to succeed in East Asia and around the globe. The full report is available to registered members of the British Council website here.

Transnational education is an increasingly important component of UK universities’ international strategies, and it has been widely reported that there are now more international students studying for UK qualifications abroad than there are in the UK. Partnerships with overseas universities are one of the key delivery modes for TNE programmes, and UK universities have been particularly active in establishing these partnerships in China – as of the end of 2014, there were 199 undergraduate level UK-China joint programmes formally approved by the Ministry of Education, excluding joint institutes and branch campuses.

As of the end of 2014, there were 199 undergraduate level UK-China joint programmes formally approved by the Ministry of Education

Focus group research with prospective and current Chinese TNE students shows that the strength of the local partner is one of the most important factors when choosing a TNE programme. Students in both groups see this as at least as important as (and often more important than) the overseas university. It is therefore crucial for universities to choose the right domestic partner for their joint programmes.

While there are many factors for UK universities involved in choosing a local partner, such as location and existing international collaborations, the partner university’s strength in the given subject is certainly one of the most important. However, an analysis of UK universities’ TNE partners in China reveals that there is often a great deal of variation in the subject ranking of local partners.

In the charts and analysis below, Chinese universities’ subject strengths are compared based on the average scores of incoming students in the Gaokao, the university entrance examination taken at the end of senior secondary school. Unlike in the UK, university recruitment in China is based virtually entirely on the results of this examination; places are given to the applicants with the highest scores without considering other factors like extracurricular activities. This makes Gaokao scores a strong indicator of the attractiveness of a course, compared with the same subject at other institutions. This metric is particularly valuable from a recruitment point of view as it shows the real choices students make after considering all factors.

Variation is the rule, not the exception

There is a large amount of variation between the strengths of the different Chinese partners involved in UK-China TNE programmes, even with the same UK institution. It is not uncommon for the same UK university to have several TNE partnerships with different universities in China, including some which are strong in the relevant subject area and others which are much weaker.

The chart below shows the MoE-approved TNE partnerships of one UK institution with six different Chinese partners across a total of 11 different subjects. The scores in this chart represent the subject-specific strength of the Chinese partner institutions on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the university whose incoming students in the relevant subject have the highest Gaokao scores.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 11.50.16

UK university no. 1 and the subject strength of its local partners in China

The difference in the strengths of this university’s various partners is immediately obvious from the above chart. Partner 1 is in the top third of Chinese universities for all five subjects that it partners on, with an overall indexed score of 69.4, while Partners 5 and 6 rank well below the national average among universities teaching these subjects in China. Even within a single subject field such as computer science, one of this UK university’s partners is in the top third of institutions offering this subject in China, while another is in the bottom third. This may lead to difficulties in ensuring not only that the two programmes are of equivalent quality, but that they are seen as such by Chinese students.

For the institution in the above chart, the subject-specific rankings of each of its six partners are broadly consistent—partner 1 is above average in all five subjects, while partners 5 and 6 are well below average across the board. However, the chart below shows that this is not always the case. One of this UK university’s partners—a specialist medical university—is significantly stronger in nursing than it is in other subjects such as pharmaceutical preparation. In general there is greater variation in quality across subjects at lower ranked Chinese universities, which should also factor into the key considerations of UK universities when seeking TNE partnerships in China.

UK university no. 2 and the subject strength of its local partners in China

UK university no. 2 and the subject strength of its local partners in China

Read more…

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Where we fall short: re-entry programming for study abroad students

“We are kidding ourselves into thinking a one-time meeting one month after programme is sufficient in supporting students’ needs during their return processes”

Supporting students during a period of study abroad is a topic that’s widely discussed, but equally important is continuing to support them after they have returned, writes Megan Lee, an international educator, traveller and writer and former Study Abroad Director for GoOverseas. Megan currently leads study abroad programmes in Asia, the South Pacific, and Africa. Chat all things #intled with her on Twitter @peglegmeg.

While working as the Study Abroad Director at GoOverseas.com, I observed a range of activities designed to serve returnee study abroad students, from providers, non-profits, and universities alike. Tweet ups, meet ups, photo contests, review outreach. While some outstanding programming stands out, such as the Lessons From Abroad conferences in the United States, let’s face it: overall, we fall short in our offerings for students.

We have watered down our post-programme correspondence to scavenge for more photos, reviews, or collect campus volunteers for reaching potential students (“Ambassador” programmes). We have taken students’ genuine fire for study abroad, living a passion-inspired life, and willingness to contribute to a cause they believe in, and morphed them into our nationwide marketing army.

It’s important that our field recalibrates our approach to reentry programming. We need to make good on our commitment to encouraging student growth, and prioritise students’ needs before we fulfil our organisation’s needs.

4 Simple Ideas to Strengthen Your Re-Entry Programming

Instead of jumping ship when students really need you most, here are some easy, no-fuss ideas to better serve your students with integrity:

1. Offer open office hours

Let students come to you when they are struggling, feeling off, or just need to talk. Avoid the bureaucratic nonsense of making appointments and meetings before they can reach you. Sometimes students just need a friend who ‘gets it’.

2. Check in with students periodically after programme

We are kidding ourselves into thinking a one-time meeting one month after programme is sufficient in supporting students’ needs during their return processes. It is our duty to also check in with students three months, six months, and one year after programme.

Challenge students in these conversations. Don’t simply ask how they are doing or stick to surface-level chit chat. Tell them to demonstrate how their experience abroad has had a real, tangible impact on their life in their home communities.

3. It starts with relationships

Advisors need to make a conscious effort to have individualised attention for each student. Once you gain a student’s trust, you will be able to speak more comfortably and openly. When providing mentorship to students you have a personal relationship with, you will eventually have a greater overall impact.

Advisors need to more confidently own their roles as mentors, and play an active role in students’ lives beyond logistically organising their semester abroad and helping them choose a programme.

4. The internet is your friend

Do you have alumni around the country or around the world? Why not reconnect with students by using technology they are accustomed to in a manner they enjoy? Fire up that webcam and connect creatively with your past students in a monthly webinar, or leverage social media to build online communities that always available for students to tap into.

No Excuses!

As a field staff educator, I now recognise how difficult it is to stay engaged with a student post-programme. Before, I would think, “How hard is it to offer X, Y, Z to a student?” And now, from the opposite end, I totally understand how these aftermath tasks get pushed to the bottom of the priority list, and how your focus quickly shifts to the next group of students preparing for their trip abroad.

I have heard multiple international educators say “Students aren’t interested in return programming unless there’s something in it for them,” or “We organise a great big event and only 20 students show up,” or “Our students clearly don’t experience reverse culture shock very strongly.”

To all that I say a big. fat. “PHOOEY.”

It is too easy an out for us, as educators, to allow these menial excuses to keep us from doing better; from solving the problem more creatively; from providing better support to returnee students (you know, the kind that allows them to flourish as global citizens upon their return).

Get Excited!

I get really excited thinking about working with students before, and especially after, their study abroad programme. While interacting with students directly during their time abroad is meaningful, I realise now it is the easy part. Completing the programme abroad is the easy part.

The hard part is when students return to where they started and are challenged to maintain their fresh perspectives borne abroad. The hard part is when students feel isolated, disempowered, and tempted to return to their old ways. The hard part is when students lose their footing and succumb to the pressures of their home communities.

The hard part is where we come in!

Let’s step it up as a field to ensure our students have the support necessary in their life after study abroad. What programme offerings are successful in your office, and what other weak areas exist that we can be doing better in?

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A passage to Britain from India

“I am saddened by the ‘go away’ message that seems to be writ large in the perception sphere of those Indian students and their parents who once considered studying in the UK but won’t any longer”

Sonal Minocha, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Global Engagement at Bournemouth University, writes about falling interest among Indian students in studying in Britain, how to address it, and the power of Education Brand Britain.

Sonal MinochaFollowing a customary break in India over Christmas I am ready to start the New Year with New Ideas. The PIE is the perfect forum for that!

So why India? Well, ’tis the only way to escape stuffing my mouth with Christmas cake and mince pies and red wine for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between – life of a PVC! And India is where family is as well for me – so instead Christmas is all about lots of dhals, currys, chicken tikkas and oh, those diabetic Indian sweets for me! And it all ends with a Delhi Belly by my last day before flying back – an excruciating flight a day or two after New Year follows! For me it’s been the same routine, year on year, since 2001.

This time round, however, I felt a special connection with India. Was it because I am so proud of what India has achieved since I left home? Is it because Modi has genuinely put India on the map and made all NRIs (Non Resident Indians) proud? Is it because I am saddened by the depravity that still engulfs one of the fastest growing economies of the world? It has to be because I am saddened by the ‘go away’ message that seems to be writ large in the perception sphere of those Indian students and their parents who once considered studying in the UK but won’t any longer (Britain has seen a decline of 51% in enrolments from India in the last two years). The latter hurts.

“I know the truly transformative power of Education Brand Britain”

As an international student to the UK first and then as a staff member in UK HE I know the truly transformative power of Education Brand Britain. Yet to see this questioned by the once prospective international students from India is sad and something I am determined to rectify.

Yes, our policy environment hasn’t been conducive; yes, we have got it wrong with the immigration, visa and PSW debates. I along, with other leaders in HE, will continue to make a compelling case on all three matters. In the meantime, however, I want us to make a call for a campaign to restore faith in Education Brand Britain. I will start this firstly as PVC at Bournemouth University, but hope that my counterparts will join in on sending a welcome message to India. This is not a marketing gimmick or a precursor to a token ministerial visit. This for me is a commitment to the values of Higher Education in Britain, which are currently challenged in the Indian context. Britain has never denied access to talent – so I make a call to my readers to work with me as we begin work to rebuild Brand Britain in India. Practically, I offer three directions in which to approach this agenda:

1. Closer working with Indian employers

This is crucial to ensure the employer base in India continues to value the skills development that British HE excels in. Input from Indian employers into our curriculum is another agenda that HE institutions might want to think of collectively – are our graduates ready to operate in the Indian socio-economic-political environment? An environment that is undergoing unprecedented transformation.

2. Closer working with Indian alumni

Since 2004, over 250,000 alumni from UK institutions have returned to India – they are a powerful voice and testament to the transformative intervention that education in Britain provided them – yet am not sure that we do enough collectively as a sector to work with these alumni.

3. A clear set of communication messages

This is easier said than done. However, I feel I still have to make the case: the media coverage for governmental and educational interaction with India has only resulted in confused messages from Britain to India at worst and at best made us appear fragmented and short sighted in our purpose. The messages that Britain is open for business and is welcoming of Indian students have lost their value in the minds of the discerning Indian ‘customer’ (businesses, students, parents etc). The policy regime has been contradictory to these generic messages. It’s time, therefore, to refine our messages and unify them (across the government/ministerial/business/non government bodies) so that we have one clear message from Britain to India and it isn’t just welcoming but is also clear, consistent and compelling.

This is my short passage to Britain as I embark on my journey back home (to Britain) from home (India)!

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The impact of volunteering abroad

“I never bought into the idea of volunteering abroad. What on earth would an HIV positive Kenyan child growing up on a rubbish dump want with a spotty, white teenager pretending to care?”

Joe Pearson, Marketing Executive at African Adventures, writes about how his perception of volunteering abroad has changed and the benefits of project-led volunteer organisations.

After finishing A-Levels, I took a gap year. A few friends did the same. I worked in a sweet shop and many of them worked too, saving money for a trip to Africa or India, or wherever, to volunteer. I grew up in a relatively affluent area so I was not surprised that so many opted to volunteer abroad. Gap year volunteering was the norm, if you took gap year you travelled or volunteered. Anything else was a wasted year.

Honestly, I never bought into the idea of volunteering abroad – it seemed an expensive way to achieve nothing. What on earth would an HIV positive Kenyan child growing up on a rubbish dump want with a spotty, white teenager pretending to care?

This is a massive oversimplification of problems but some of these concerns remain valid. The uncomfortable truth is that volunteering abroad is a mandatory rite of passage for children of doctors and lawyers that must be undertaken before they persue their true destiny at Oxford or Cambridge. At best they might volunteer again after university, at worst their trip to ‘save Africa’ goes down as just another line on the CV.

“Volunteering abroad is a mandatory rite of passage for children of doctors and lawyers before they persue their true destiny at Oxford or Cambridge”

Yet volunteering in Africa is a changing industry. Faye Egan, a friend in full-time work, recently volunteered in Nakuru, Kenya. Her experience, she claims, could not have been more different. Keen to make a lasting difference, she volunteered with a company called African Adventures and worked at projects near the Hilton Dump site in Nakuru. Travelling alongside Ely College and Ormiston Sudbury she was delighted at the way the organisation, the projects and the volunteers worked with each other to support sustainable projects and make a difference. Ely College’s Group leader, Mark Sirot-Smith, commented on the impact of volunteering both on his students and the children at the projects in Kenya.

“First there was the confidence they gained through the fundraising process. Initially many students didn’t believe that they could raise £1500 each, but they all did – through quizzes, curry nights, sponsored events, race nights and by directly approaching businesses. What they discovered was that many people are keen to help them, but want to see that they have taken some initiative and are not simply relying on others for hand-outs. I think they surprised themselves.”

“Many of the team had never really experienced success before, but to achieve what they did and to be told how well they had done was a real boost”

“In Kenya they had to work as a team, which is very important, but what I think they gained most of all was belief in themselves and what they could achieve. Many of the team had never really experienced success before, but to achieve what they did within a week and to be told how well they had done was a real boost to them.

“The benefit is longer term – all of them have started to understand what they can do rather than what they can’t. They have started to believe in themselves and understand how much richer life can be if you give yourself. I truly believe this experience will be the making of the team. Volunteer in Africa, but make sure you do it with a purpose not simply as a holiday. The extras such as the safari are lovely but without the volunteering it would have been an empty experience.

“Be prepared to get emotionally involved – go as a volunteer and a human being, not a teacher”

“Be prepared to get emotionally involved – go as a volunteer and a human being, not a teacher. Be prepared to muck in and lead by example. It’s a lot of work and there are times when you will think – never again, but the impact of the experience overcomes all these and the high you experience when you see your students achieve great things is immeasurable. I’m totally hooked!”

Oliver King, from Ormiston Sudbury School, who led a similar trip to Kenya, had similar thoughts on his student’s experience. “Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘do one thing every day that scares you’. Wifi, hot water and electricity are all things I no longer take for granted, not just because we went without for a few hours at a time but because we worked with young people every day succeeding with much less.”

I believe travelling is crucial to development. Recently groups from King Richard’s School in Portsmouth and Ross Hall School in Glasgow volunteered in Kenya, both schools from deprived areas of their respective cities. All of the students had to fundraise in order to pay their trip costs and did so successfully. I don’t doubt in the slightest how beneficial this has been for those children.

“Their target market? Well, it’s certainly no longer exclusively individual groups of wealthy gap year students”

Perhaps volunteering abroad is more than just a line on a CV for today’s students. Providers such as African Adventures maintain that they are project led, which is a welcome change. Sustainable projects assisted, but not dictated by, UK run organisations are becoming more common. These organisation’s successes are rightly judged by the successes of their partner schools and projects in-country. Their target market? Well, it’s certainly no longer exclusively individual groups of wealthy gap year students. School, college and university students all attest to the immeasurable value of volunteering abroad. It’s about time. Volunteering shouldn’t be a dirty word and it certainly shouldn’t be seen as some sort of exclusive club. It might surprise many that an awful lot of good can be done by volunteering, you can actually help people and make a difference. Who knew?

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Public-private partnerships and all that

“We are in the midst of a widespread exercise in innovation, adaptability, and resilience”

Dr William Lawton, outgoing Director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), shares some insights on public-private partnerships (PPPs) in higher education in the wake of a successful event on the topic.

‘If PPPs are the answer, what was the question?’ That was one question tackled at the Observatory’s latest conference, ‘The future of public-private partnerships in higher education’, held on 3-4 December at Regent’s University London (incidentally a private but not-for-profit institution). Presentations can be seen here.

Why now? Part of the context is the view, among the new for-profit players, that public-private partnerships in higher education are under-analysed and under-reported. Other parts of the backdrop are international competition, the demand for education by older students, skills deficits in many countries, and funding cuts – all of which render unsurprising the increasing role of private actors in higher education. What may be more surprising is the diversity and sophistication of approaches that now join ‘traditional’ universities and the for-profits.

“International competition, the demand for education by older students, skills deficits and funding cuts all render unsurprising the increasing role of private actors in higher education”

We were reminded a number of times, including by Doug Becker, head of Laureate Education worldwide, that public-private partnerships have long been part of higher education: from catering to computing to payrolls to residences to security services. In this sense, the Observatory and i-graduate – and our parent company Tribal Group – are well-integrated parts of this PPP service-provision scene.

Professor Susan Robertson from Bristol reminded us of the pedigree of public-private partnerships in the 1990s: as a less-in-your-face privatisation after the first (Thatcherite) wave of 1980s privatisation. PPPs, under the label of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), emerged as a way of funding and running public infrastructure projects with private capital. The stated aim was to increase accountability and inject private-sector efficiencies into public spending; the unstated one was to lessen government debt in the public accounts by shifting the debt to future generations. PFI was started by the UK Conservatives but warmly embraced by New Labour. PFI projects emerged in all areas of public service (health, schools, transport, even defence) in the UK, Australia and such jurisdictions of fiscal propriety as Spain, Greece and Ireland.

The brief recap of PFI is worth recounting in order to stress that the business models described by Doug Becker and the other for-profits represented in the conference programme (Kaplan, INTO, Study Group, Navitas and Pearson) were as distant as one can imagine from a political accounting wheeze to make government inefficiency look less inefficient. One intent of the meeting was to evaluate the differences in approach between these companies, but all of their approaches are premised on understanding the cultural gaps between universities and their private partners. They do recognise both the ‘peril and potential’ for traditional universities and actively accommodate the means by which universities must protect their reputations (by controlling student intake, for example).

“These experiments have no time or space for a clumsy dichotomy of ‘public good, private bad’ – or the other way round”

Such awareness and self-awareness was characterised by Bob Hogg from Warwick as ‘institutional emotional intelligence’. Paul Greatrix from Nottingham described how their branch-campus partnerships had infused the university with a profoundly more entrepreneurial culture. What emerged at the conference is that we are in the midst of a widespread exercise in innovation, adaptability, and resilience. These experiments have no time or space for a clumsy dichotomy of ‘public good, private bad’ – or the other way round.

Former Vice-Chancellor Professor Roger King, member of the Higher Education Commission (which in November published its report on the financial sustainability of higher education in England), in fact argued that the public-private dichotomy is meaningless in any case, because the legal status of universities is either that of a person (pre-1992) or ‘quasi-private’ (post-1992). His take on regulation and the appropriateness of ‘risk-based quality assurance’ included the provocative assertion that the new private providers are subject to closer monitoring because of an assumption, at the agencies, that they are less familiar with the regulations and therefore a higher risk. A safer assumption would be that the for-profits know their regulatory environments inside-out. An article based on his presentation is here.

In the UK, knowing your regulatory environment means having to learn new tricks every month. During the conference, the Home Office distributed further proposed changes to a Tier 4 guidance for sponsors document published just the week before. It is not clear precisely what motivated this latest broadside from Croydon but base politics is never far away and it is always just possible that shady practices and non-compliant operators are working to undermine civilisation as we know it. The proposed restrictions on operating pathways arrangements and ‘satellite campuses’ (eg. London branches of UK universities) were so radical as to be interpreted by universities and their private partners as a bewildering attempt to close down these parts of the sector. The dismay was such that it is unlikely to proceed, but Merry Christmas anyway and expect redrafted guidance in January.

“It is always possible that shady practices and non-compliant operators are working to undermine civilisation as we know it”

One delegate claimed that the conference was an important milestone in discussing PPP models and applications, and it was in keeping with the Observatory’s tradition of matching intellectual nourishment and analysis with the how-to approach of practitioners.

The conference closed with a wrap-up of risks and rewards, during which the idea of risk-based quality assurance was challenged, and universities reaffirmed a positive view of the for-profits. The withdrawal of the state from higher education funding in a number of countries does suggest that its ideal as a public good is being challenged. But the PPP responses to a culture of scarcity in fact demonstrate a determination to keep that ideal alive.

Read more coverage of the event on The PIE News.

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Summer on the high seas: Ode to a Ship

“The most incredible experience I had on my voyage was not the one you might expect”

Lauren Hartig, Director of the Field Office at Semester at Sea, shares the final instalment in a three-part blog series on her travel adventures.

Ship yoga

Ship yoga

The most incredible experience I had on my voyage was not the one you might expect. Each of the diverse countries we visited offered a unique experience seemingly better than the last. I also managed to eat my way through the local offerings of each new city several times over. Pintxos for life! However, now that I am back in San Diego, the memories that keep resurfacing and the homesick feeling I have is for the ship itself. Along our voyage, the MV Explorer became a special community, its own country in a way, our homeport.

In grad school and in my professional career, I have studied the benefits of living-learning communities. Currently I work with the International House UCSD, which is part of a worldwide consortium of international houses across the globe. There are four key factors that define this sense of community: membership, influence, fulfillment of individual needs, and shared events/emotional connections.

The ship was our safe harbor, the place where we said good-bye and welcomed each new port, ten times over. Our cabins became our sanctuary, some cleaner than others. We sat together in the dining halls, the pool deck, the classrooms, and the union. We shared the details and photos of our adventures with each other and planned for new experiences.

“There are four key factors that define this sense of community: membership, influence, fulfillment of individual needs, and shared events/emotional connections”

During the day while at sea everyone was usually busy working, studying, and taking classes, but we also had special days of no class like the Sea Olympics. The Sea Olympics were organized by the extremely talented student life team and included activities for all ages and all levels. I was happy to compete in the trivia contest, but there was also synchronized swimming, basketball, and comedy shows. Overall, it is important to keep up a regular fitness routine because the food in the dining halls is served buffet style (with dessert)! The gym on the ship is small, but my friend and faculty member Amber Johnson, who also happens to be a Ninja Warrior, taught sunset yoga classes on the 7th deck!

From students, staff, and faculty dressing up and sitting/dancing side by side at the Alumni Ball to students and faculty/staff children wearing pajamas to the Union for the cultural/logistical pre-ports, the ship was a floating university. It was an incredibly unique 25,000 ton traveling campus. One that even hosted a TEDxSemesteratSea event on the way to Finland. As the shipboard drive and our moving convocation ceremony demonstrated, membership into the SAS alumni makes us a part of an exceptional group of people. I can’t wait to see what the students from our voyage accomplish out in the world and I am continually impressed by what students from previous voyages have accomplished (check out Pencils of Promise and Kiva).

“Membership into the SAS alumni makes us a part of an exceptional group of people. I can’t wait to see what the students from our voyage accomplish”

There were many sunsets to behold on our 66 days at sea, most of them I witnessed from my special spot on the fifth deck starboard side outside my office. The final Administration Team meeting held on our last day as sea was filled with laughter and love (and some tears). In a very short time, I grew to respect and cherish the professional relationships and connections I made on this voyage more so than any place I have ever worked.
My final farewell to the staff and students and faculty of the Summer 2014 voyage was not a good-bye per say, but a ‘sea’ you later. My peripatetic self will not let me stay put for long so I know there are many visits across the country and faraway travel in my future. If I am really blessed, I will one day get to sail again with Semester at Sea.

At the alumni ball

At the alumni ball

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