Universities, agents and international students: contribution and the controversy

“Let’s get this straight, shall we?”

Naveen Chopra, Chairman of The Chopras, one of India’s top study abroad agencies, takes on some of the criticisms aimed at agents in the international education industry.

Lately, a lot of stories have appeared in the media across the western world currently led by Australia’s newspapers, with headlines such as Gaping cracks open up in the Ivory Towers. Everyone is in on the act, including ABC’s Four Corners TV programme; which tried to demolish the reputation of Australian universities and the “agents” they use.

NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s paper points to falling standards at Australian universities and “the increasingly conspicuous role of third-party “agents” in recruiting students as a concerning development.

“‘Agents’ are an easy target and scapegoat”

How agents are responsible for a fall in standards at any university, given that they have absolutely no say in the management or running of any institution they represent, is beyond me. Then again, “agents” are an easy target and scapegoat.

That is not to say that all “agents” are bathed in milk, quite the contrary; many justify the negative perception, but most of those who are the best in the business, the drivers of the student traffic, are providing an essential service to student clients, and indeed in many cases to the universities they work with in helping frame and implement local strategies.

These are front-line, innovative and ethical organisations that do not deserve the “agent” tag by any stretch. They are “agents” only in the mode of payment, a commission.

Over the years I have been noting a lot of similar negative stories appearing in various media across the globe. The PIE News has tracked and published many articles and views from within the industry on these subjects in the past few years. Conscientious objectors to the “agent” factor appear to be led by Mr Vincenzo Raimo from his Nottingham University days to his present position of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Reading.

“He neglects to mention the over £10m per year created for his university without risk and with minimal investment”

Mr Raimo’s core position stems from the stance of “undue” influence that agents have acquired over the student traffic and cost of student acquisition. He points to over £1m that his university paid its agents but neglects to mention the over £10m per year created for his university without risk and with minimal investment.

No one seems to have taken a measure of how much it costs a university to sift through all of the thousands of direct applications before they even get condensed to the lot that prima facie qualify from which selections can be made; or the cost of enrolling students who are not suited to the university. Compare this to the applications that come pre-vetted to meet entry requirements, and pre-counselled over multiple sessions, to the point of the university being one of the best fits for the student.

And what about the “cost” of empty seats in many courses and classrooms across universities?

Within the global education space, the choice matrix for students is so huge in terms of countries, courses and universities and the information overload so baffling that these market dynamics have built the agency brands more than anything else. It certainly did for us at The Chopras.

In today’s fast changing world, where jobs are likely to disappear or be created by the time a student completes a course, the future is hugely uncertain, and making choices as to what course to study and where, is quite an ask and requires in-depth expertise within today’s knowledge economy.

Most sensible universities look out for this class of company.

Moving on to the other wider debate within western societies fuelled by the immigration discourse; let us put aside, for a moment, the huge economic contributions that international students make in different markets: £15bn+ in Britain; AUS$17.5 bn+ in Australia; billions of dollars in the US.

Given the huge supply-demand deficiency for quality education in Asia, the move by western countries and universities to “sell” themselves to international students netted massive numbers of aspiring students from China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh.

Whilst this movement catapulted education to be one of the biggest export earner, it also brought the problems in its wake that are now so much in the news. The question is, what were or are the key factors fuelling the problem?

Let us look at the nature of the international student. Broadly, international students can be stratified into three bands in socio-economic and “intent” terms. The top strata are students from very wealthy families, sort of the creamy layer.

For these, the sole intent of going overseas for an education is to gain the best education that money can buy. These are looking for exposure, a broadening of their mental horizons to prepare for a truly globalised world. This band tends to head back home after graduating or, the top performing ones might land jobs that they will take for a couple of years before heading back.

“These students actively contribute to the larger issues of skill deficiencies in key sectors”

In the second band fall students from middle to upper middle class families who generally have enough money to send their children overseas for their education but, many have some pressure to work while studying to subsidise themselves and for a large percentage of these, migration is the eventual aim. These students actively contribute to the larger issues of skill deficiencies in key sectors. Aging populations and the apparent lack of desire on the part of local populations to take up courses perceived as hard provide fuel to this segment.

The third band generally can be defined as the “grey market” band and comprises students from the lower socio-economic strata whose agenda is to get into the country on a student visa with the intention of working full time during their academic year and somehow finding their way to immigrate. This is the group that causes maximum damage and controversy that tars the entire student community debate.

So wherein lies the problem? It rests squarely within the third, the “grey” market band. Who is responsible? Please consider this; while the window was open, Sikh students from the Punjab in India (who revere their hair and do not cut it) were being dished out visas for hairdressing courses like pancakes at a party.

“Sikh students from the Punjab were being dished out visas for hairdressing courses like pancakes at a party”

Did the visa officers not know this? Of course they did, so why did it happen? Your guess is as good as mine. This is an extreme case but illustrative.

Originally, various governments took responsibility and assessed the quality, intent, financial capacity of applicants. It appears that the sheer volume of applications overwhelmed the system and some bright bureaucrats probably came up with the idea of passing on this responsibility to universities through the current SVP for Australia, and similar approaches elsewhere.

The US is still interviewing each visa applicant prior to granting a visa, and do not have anywhere near the problems that are on display here. On the other end of the spectrum are those “agents” who actively tap into the lucrative “grey” market. Again, for instance, in Punjab, India, the going rate for an Australian, British or other visa ranges from US$15-30,000. Here documents are forged, financial picture padded and case presented.

Various governments expect, indeed have forced, universities to police this. Does that make any sense at all? How are they supposed to have the means to first carry out the sort of background checks required of such “agents” that fuel this phenomenon, and then to monitor them?

“Various governments expect, indeed have forced, universities to police this”

Finally, besides being huge contributors to the western economy, international students are also, in their home countries, the cheapest, self-paid ambassadors and influence peddlers of the country where they study, as these are the future leaders of their countries.

Let’s get real here and lift the contours of the debate by not passing the blame to the one entity, the “agent” that has absolutely no say in university decision making.

Of course, the grey market “agent” has to be identified and barred but is it not about time that the best of these were co-opted in the debate and in framing the right structure while looking after the best interest of the student?

The Chopras is one of India’s largest and most reputed student counselling organisations, helping over 10,000 students each year achieve their international study ambitions. 

Posted in Agents, India | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

“I will nail my colours to the mast”: EU membership and immigration in the wake of the UK general election

“I will nail my colours to the mast now, of being very clearly pro-European. Higher education must work closely with industry to explain clearly the many benefits of full EU membership”

In a letter to UCL staff cross-posted here on The PIE Blog, UCL vice chancellor and former head of the Russell Group Michael writes about how the Conservatives’ shock majority win in last week’s general election will affect UCL and the UK higher education sector from an international perspective.

The opinion polls, we now know, were wrong. It seems around 3% of voters were telling the pollsters one thing, only to do another in the polling booth. I read an interesting analysis of this phenomenon at the weekend, but what does the result mean for UCL? While some of my thoughts will, of necessity, be speculative, the fact that we face a Conservative majority government for the next five years makes it easier to anticipate what is coming than would have been the case had the voters returned the widely anticipated hung parliament.

“A Conservative government does present some significant challenges to higher education with respect to issues such as immigration and also the proposed EU referendum”

A Conservative government does, of course, present some significant challenges to higher education with respect to issues such as immigration and also the proposed EU referendum. On immigration, we need to constantly remind government that bringing the best and the brightest to Britain to study or to work in our universities is of immense value to our nation. Immigration enriches our university, our city, and the country we live in and many that come will make a positive contribution to our economy through their ideas, enterprise and innovation. We have to work with Treasury and with Business Industry and Skills (BIS) to persuade the Home Office to understand the importance of immigration to our future economic success.

Against that background, it was with interest that I learnt that the new Secretary of State for BIS, announced earlier this week is Sajid Javid. He is the UK-born son of an immigrant of Pakistani descent. A worked example of the benefits of immigration in such a powerful position in government has to be of value in tackling this issue.

I have written before about the serious consequences for UCL if the UK were to withdraw from the European Union. The proposed referendum on EU membership is now definitely going to occur, towards the end of 2017 at the latest. David Cameron is allegedly going to attempt to broker a ‘new deal’ for the UK with the EU in advance of the referendum, but clearly there is no certainty of the outcome being positive. I will nail my colours to the mast now, of being very clearly pro-European. Higher education must work closely with industry to explain clearly the many benefits of full EU membership, not only to the way we function as a university, but to the nation more generally.

“Effective lobbying is best done largely behind the scenes, with politicians and their advisors and officials at multiple levels and across all relevant government departments”

My final thoughts this week relate to the amount of lobbying and influence that will be needed to help guide this new government in the right direction with respect to policies that ultimately help our higher education system remain internationally competitive. The one thing I learnt when I was Chair of the Russell Group is that there is no quick fix and that effective lobbying is best done largely behind the scenes, with politicians and their advisors and officials at multiple levels and across all relevant government departments. Persistent clear messages are essential. Occasionally it becomes necessary to take a strong stand in the public domain, but that must be used judiciously, as it may just simply entrench opposing views. Please rest assured that UCL’s voice and views will be heard as we address each of these future challenges.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hawke’s Bay to London: supply teaching overseas and the time of my life

“In New Zealand, I was never going to get the kind of richness of experience that I’ve been exposed to in England”

Michael Day, International Candidate Manager at Prospero Teaching in the UK, writes on his experience of teaching in London and proving the naysayers wrong.

Hawke’s Bay to London: I’m not the first teacher to make the journey and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the last. But now I’ve been here in the land of ‘pea-soupers’, top hats and Dickensian poverty (only kidding) for six years, I feel I’m ready to evaluate my experience and draw some conclusions.

So after two years as a music teacher what was the response of my NZ colleagues when I told them of my plans to settle in London? ‘Why would you want to do that?’; ‘You’ll get ripped apart’; ‘The kids are terrible’; ‘You’re mad’ were some of the more encouraging comments!

Luckily, I didn’t listen.

As for so many others, the decision to move to the UK was made easier by the fact I have family here: my parents are both originally from England and my brother lives here.

“For me, one of the main attractions of the English education system is the supply system whereby you can move from school to school, picking up new experience and ideas in a very small amount of time”

Career-wise, I seemed to have hit a brick wall. My problem was that I was struggling to find a job as a music teacher in NZ – and this was before the current problem of over-supply was anywhere near as bad as it is now.

My horizons felt very limited. For me, one of the main attractions of the English education system is the supply system whereby you can move from school to school in temporary roles, picking up new experience and ideas in a very small amount of time.

This could not contrast more with the situation in NZ. The system whereby each school – especially in rural areas – has its own own group of local teachers they can call on for supply cover meant that I was never going to get the kind of richness of experience that I’ve been exposed to in England.

When I started teaching in London, I was learning all the time from the different schools where I worked: I was meeting new teachers every day, swapping lesson plans, building up my own library of resources. I felt really energised and stimulated by the new environment.

But what about the kids? Well, what about them? Yes, there are challenging schools in London with challenging kids. But I’d taught in schools at home where there was no support to address bad classroom behaviour, where kids came from a very disadvantaged background and gang culture was prevalent. So no one can claim this is something that’s peculiar to London. And when you remember that there are more than double the number of people in London as in the whole of NZ, of course you’re going to come into contact with a far more diverse population.

“But what about the kids? Well, what about them?”

Coming to the UK can be a permanent career change. Or it can be the most fantastic overseas experience with career development attached. As a supply teacher you enjoy incredible flexibility, you can have days off whenever you want, you don’t do any lesson plans or marking – the work is simply handed to you when you arrive at school.

And you can leave the classroom on a Friday afternoon, head for the airport and be in Rome – or Paris or Athens or Madrid and hundreds of other amazing places – a couple of hours later.

But a word of warning: teachers in permanent posts work extremely hard in the UK. The education system has undergone a period of huge reform under the Coalition government in a bid to raise standards of teaching – and learning. Teacher training in England, too, is extremely demanding. Having observed a friend training in the UK, I’ve been struck by the fact that his workload is literally four times larger than mine was in NZ. And the amount of paperwork teachers have to do in England is, frankly, bananas.

“Having observed a friend training in the UK, I’ve been struck by the fact that his workload is four times larger than mine was in NZ”

But a word of warning: teachers in permanent posts work extremely hard in the UK. The education system has undergone a period of huge reform under the Coalition Government in a bid to raise standards of teaching – and learning. Teacher training in England, too, is extremely demanding. Having observed a friend training in the UK, I’ve been struck by the fact that his workload is literally four times larger than mine was in NZ. And the amount of paperwork teachers have to do in England is, frankly, bananas.

A recent survey shows that 73% of trainee teachers here have considered leaving the profession – mostly due to workload. But if teachers in the UK are being turned off teaching as a permanent career, the opportunities for supply teachers are even greater.

I’m now working for a teacher recruitment agency, helping people like me find the jobs they want and settle into new lives in the UK. I’ve had the time of my life – it seems unfair not to help other share the same experience!

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Combating fraud in international education

“You can’t be expected to know every university in Brazil, but make sure you know the main ones”

The PIE News reporter Beckie Smith writes about some of the key takeaways from UK NARIC‘s recent seminar on education fraud.

On 29 April I attended a fascinating seminar hosted by UK NARIC at Birmingham Metropolitan College’s Sutton Coldfield campus, offering insight into fraud in the international education sector. As well as playing detective with a wad of bogus certificates from a handful of different education markets (I now feel like I could confidently spot a fake Pakistani school certificate at 50 paces), delegates received a number of useful tips to help them safeguard against fraud in their institutions. Here are some of the lessons learned from the event.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

SELTs and Cambridge English at UK universities – a question I get asked a lot

“One area of great concern for the whole UK education system is the risk that people may misunderstand the requirements for Tier 4 student visas”

Blandine Bastie, Regional Manager for UK and Ireland at Cambridge English, clarifies the status of Cambridge English exams for entry into UK universities.

We do understand the government’s desire to simplify the system for language testing for UK visas and the IELTS partners are working very hard to ensure that there is adequate capacity to meet the needs of visa applicants worldwide.

One area of great concern for the whole UK education system is the risk that people may misunderstand the requirements for Tier 4 student visas. We think it’s extremely important that universities can choose how they assess that candidates meet the requirements, and the current legislation gives education institutions the freedom to do this.

For example, one question I get asked a lot is: Are Cambridge English exams still accepted by UK universities? The short answer is yes (under certain circumstances of course). To clarify when Cambridge English exams can be used, we recently published a statement, but in a nutshell, here goes.

Candidates applying for a Tier 4 visa in order to study at degree level and above at a Tier 4 sponsor university are only required to present the proof of English language level that the university requires. This means that UK universities can continue to accept Cambridge English exams, including Cambridge English: Advanced and Proficiency, at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

So when do UK Visas and Immigration require people to take a test from the list of Secure English Language Tests? For courses below degree level, universities need to accept an approved SELT from non-EU international applicants. The IELTS test – which we jointly own with British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia – is included on UKVI’s SELT list. For UK visas and immigration purposes, IELTS will need to be taken under specified conditions at centres which are specifically approved for this purpose.

Obviously we’d recommend that students planning to study at a UK university check the entry requirements with the university itself and the UKVI, but I hope this post has been helpful.

Posted in Cambridge English, Testing | Leave a comment

Ghana – through the eyes of a volunteer

“There’s no sugar coating it, cultural differences hit you hard and instantly”

Joe Pearson, Marketing Executive at African Adventures, shares his experience of volunteering in Ghana.

Despite working for a well-established volunteer travel provider, I’m not really a seasoned traveller. In fact, before volunteering in Ghana, I’d never left Europe. Naturally, when I was presented with the opportunity to volunteer at two schools located in Woe, a rural fishing village in South-Eastern Ghana, I eagerly grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Upon arrival, you’re immediately hit by the culture shock. There’s no sugar coating it, cultural differences hit you hard and instantly. Everything is different. Even relatively simple local customs are hard to get to grips with. For example, it’s impolite to use your left hand to gesture or take money. Customs like this present a fun challenge and yet they’re constant reminder of where and who you are.

People wear the most beautiful, colourful clothing and seem unfazed by the poverty that surrounds them on a day-to-day basis. To say that Ghanaians friendly is a huge understatement, I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve felt so welcome.

Despite being one of Africa’s real success stories, evidently Ghana still has some way to go. In Accra, you don’t need to go far to find areas where people live way below the poverty line and struggle to get by on a day-to-day basis. One wrong turning can take you into an area where prostitution is abundant and young men sit drinking by the side of the road with little else to occupy their thoughts and time.

There’s a real contrast between the more beautiful aspects of the country and those that are considerably less savoury. In a way, though, I think this is part of what made the trip so fascinating and eye-opening. Despite some of the blatant and widespread corruption, crime and poverty, there’s an overwhelming sense of positivity that courses through the country’s veins.

Volunteering was the name of the game; it’s why I was there. Our destination was Woe, a beautiful, rural fishing village in the Volta region. Geographically unique, Woe is situated in the middle of the massive Keta lagoon and is also located close to Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world. Woe is where African Adventures partner schools are based, some of which are private while others are government funded. All of them are understaffed, under-resourced in need of basic assistance.

Poverty in Woe is very different from the poverty we saw in Accra. As a small village, there aren’t sprawling slums where thousands go hungry daily. In Woe, people don’t really go hungry. It’s a rural community so if someone is hungry they can quite literally live off the land. It’s not encouraged, but someone could forage for food on neighbouring farms in the most dire of circumstances. The problem is more a lack of opportunity – there’s a real glass ceiling for some of the children. Many of them recognise that they will inevitably end up working in agriculture and thus education is not given the same value that it should be. It’s really telling that so few children remain at school much past the age of 15 or so. It’s a viscous cycle because ‘middle-class’ job opportunities are so few and far between so there is very little wealth creation and thus this lack of opportunities persists. I’d like to think that we are a part of the solution; Jack Freeman, a year 11 volunteer, wrote that “even if it is just a small difference to us, to these kids even a small difference is potentially life-changing”.

“I’m convinced that volunteering gave me a deeper insight into Ghanaian life and allowed me to dig deeper than the average tourist”

I’m convinced that volunteering with African Adventures gave me a deeper insight into Ghanaian life and allowed me to dig deeper than the average tourist. As tourists, we so often mentally separate the places we visit from the struggles faced by resident communities because it is convenient to do so. Volunteering allows you to become one with the community, playing an active part rather than observing from a distance. If you truly want to experience a different way of life and a different culture, do it through volunteering. The experience will utterly consume you, you’ll come back a different person.

Posted in Volunteering | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A change for the better: learning outside the classroom

“More students are being offered the opportunity of school expeditions to actually learn what it means to be a global citizen in a hyper-globalised world”

Tom Waugh, Foundation Co-ordinator at African Adventures, extols the virtues of volunteering abroad, and the benefits it can bring to both students and the communities in which they work.

The geography classroom has come a long way since I left school over a decade ago (which really was not that long ago!). More students are being offered the opportunity of school expeditions to not only travel and understand the world we live in, or meet people from different cultures, or even get involved in projects abroad, but actually learn what it means to be a global citizen in a hyper-globalised world.

More students than ever before are also gaining real employable skills from group volunteering trips in Africa; from running their own fundraising campaigns, raising awareness of their travels or fundraising for charitable causes, which is something that we see here at African Adventures all the time. If anything, the rise in social media over the past decade, the numerous charity fundraising websites that are now available and the fact that young adults are becoming ‘cleverer’ with modern technology/communication portals all helps with fundraising and putting the word out there. This is also exactly what a lot of employers look for today. Young workers who use their initiative and find ways to meet objectives and targets.

“More students than ever before are gaining real employable skills from group volunteering trips in Africa”

During the past two years of my working in this sector and volunteering in Ghana, Kenya and Zanzibar with school groups, I have seen students bag-pack in supermarkets, jump out of airplanes, abseil off buildings, and hold disco, quiz and curry nights, to name just a few.

These invaluable skills are not only accessible for the rich or middle-class kids that it seemed to be when I was at school. More students from perceived ‘less well-off’ areas or backgrounds are seizing the opportunity to volunteer now. Not at twenty when I could first afford to travel abroad without my parents and volunteer for long periods of time!

The knock-on effects from students travelling and volunteering abroad also have a massive impact on the children that we work with in project schools in Africa. Aside from the obvious physical work that these student volunteers carry out on building new classrooms, renovating structures or teaching mathematics and English, our student volunteers are also choosing to continue their support of our charitable causes. In essence, student volunteers are seeing the support process all the way through. From meeting the children that are directly benefited through our work to actually propping up and supporting that process by volunteering, fundraising and donating towards the further development of these communities. In some cases, our volunteers even come back for family volunteering trips in Africa. We’re witnesses to a paradigm shift, the concept of the traditional ‘family package holiday’ is also changing and, in my mind, for the better!

“One of the things I love seeing is this breaking down of barriers, the understanding students obtain that despite the different way of life, the different cultures, tastes, sights and smells”

If more of our young adults took up this calling, or were presented with this opportunity, our country’s young adults would be even more fit to live in a constantly globalised world where it is not uncommon to talk to someone across the other side of the world on a daily basis or live next door to someone who fifty years ago would be described as ‘foreign’.
One of the biggest things I love seeing is this breaking down of barriers, the understanding students obtain that despite the different way of life, the different cultures, tastes, sights and smells. We are all the same in this world and we all should continue to promote this way of life, for cultural discoveries at a young age and for the act of giving a helping hand to those in need.

Posted in Volunteering | Tagged | Leave a comment

Is South Asia’s student mobility market set for growth?

“The state of student mobility from South Asia to the UK has been a nearly endless series of bad news since 2011, but green shoots in Bangladesh suggest that the region be set for growth again”

The following is an extract from the British Council’s Education in East Asia – By the Numbers report, ‘Is South Asia’s student mobility market set for growth?’, written by Jeremy Chan, Regional Head of Research and Consultancy, East Asia at the British Council. 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.

The state of student mobility from South Asia to the UK has been a nearly endless series of bad news since 2011, but green shoots in Bangladesh suggest that the region may have bottomed out and be set for growth again. This rebound comes not a moment too soon – and perhaps two years too late – as South Asia will be the most important growth market for international student mobility for the foreseeable future and has already recorded rapid rises in enrolments in Australia, the US and Canada since 2013. The UK cannot afford to fall any further behind.

“This rebound comes not a moment too soon – and perhaps two years too late – as South Asia will be the most important growth market for international student mobility for the foreseeable future”

For the UK, the South Asia region has made for a wild ride since 2009, when issuance of long-term UK study visas began to surge, only to collapse again two years later. Today, the region issues some 40 per cent fewer visas than it did in 2005, and more than 80 per cent fewer visas than it did at its peak in the middle of 2010. Demand for UK education continues to decline in four of the five countries in the region – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal – albeit at a slowing rate. More encouragingly, strong growth in demand for UK education from Bangladesh in 2014 points to glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel for the region as a whole.

Reasons for (cautious) optimism

It goes without saying that today’s visa applicants are tomorrow’s students, which means that new enrolments from South Asia at UK institutions have almost certainly continued to decline in 2014/15 on the back of falling numbers of applications for UK study visas. However, growth could rebound in time for the 2015/16 cohort, although even in this slightly optimistic scenario, mobility to the UK will return to growth more than two years after the South Asia market began to recover in other major English speaking host destination countries. This suggests that UK market share will not necessarily improve even with a rebound in enrolments – a function of both the severe decline in South Asia’s outbound student mobility market to the UK from 2011-14, as well as the more rapid increase in enrolments from the region in Australia, the US and Canada in recent years.

Indeed, Australia has reported especially strong growth in enrolments from all of South Asia in 2014, while the U.S. and Canada have seen overall increases from the region in 2013/14 – and Bangladesh in particular. The strong growth in enrolments from Bangladesh across all major markets suggests that its outbound student market is indeed growing faster than other countries in South Asia, with the ‘push’ factors for students from Bangladesh perhaps outweighing the ‘pull’ factors in any given host destination country.

“For the UK, in other words, a rebound in Bangladesh may only be a function of a rising tide lifting all boats”

For the UK, in other words, a rebound in Bangladesh may only be a function of a rising tide lifting all boats; UK market share will tell the full story of how the UK education offer stacks up against the competition. On this front, the latest visa application data suggests that the UK continued to lose ground in 2013/14 but may have recovered a bit in 2014/15 – after more than three years of consecutive decline in issuance of new long-term UK study visas to students in Bangladesh, its outbound student market returned to growth in 2014 and has increased at an annual rate of nearly 25 per cent through the first three quarters of 2014, according to data from the Home Office.

Continue reading here.

Posted in British Council | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Children of the STEM Revolution

“Giving STEM subjects the focus, care, and respect they deserve yields results: a lesson which other schools – always having to divide their attentions – would do well to heed”

Nick Waite, Principal of Bellerbys College Cambridge, writes about investing in STEM and specialisation in higher education.

In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion laid the groundwork for classical mechanics; in 2014, a British scientist helped land a spacecraft on a comet by following these principles. Over hundreds of years, STEM graduates have changed the course of human history – and the scope of what we believe to be possible. In the last few decades alone, it’s led to major advances in cancer treatment, sanitation and sustainable energy research – to say nothing of its impact on technology, which is an essential part of our everyday lives and a major contributor to the economy.

“Over hundreds of years, STEM graduates have changed the course of human history – and the scope of what we believe to be possible”

The reality is that there’s no good argument against investing in STEM subjects: they contribute to the sum of human understanding, they’re in high demand among prospective employers, and they’re big business. So why is there a distinct lack of funding and focus in this area? The consequences are all too clear to see – a report from The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that over 40% of its members had trouble recruiting students from STEM backgrounds, and most don’t expect the situation to improve.

It’s easy to blame this on the academic sector, where pupils are able to choose from a smorgasbord of courses – the majority of which do not fall under the STEM umbrella. Easy, perhaps, but unfair. 98,000 students enrolled on STEM courses last year (an 18% improvement on the figures from 2002/03), and 27 universities got £5m worth of funding from the UK government.

I believe the problem is more deeply-rooted than that. There’s strong evidence that schools aren’t giving the field the care it deserves. Whilst in the US, there has been significant investment from companies to aid STEM education, the pickup in Europe has been less rapid. There needs to be a global consensus on the importance of this subject area which we are currently lacking.

“Whilst in the US, there has been significant investment from companies to aid STEM education, the pickup in Europe has been less rapid”

There is, however, a solution. I’ve worked in the education sector for several years now, but in my role as principal of Bellerbys College Cambridge, I’ve seen for myself that students thrive when they can focus their efforts into courses that are tailored to their strengths and interests. This will broaden and develop their knowledge, as they share ideas with like-minded people. I am referring here to the concept of specialisation in higher education.

We’ve invested considerably in creating a specialised science and engineering programme, and I believe the results speak for themselves: our curriculum of GCSE, A-Level and Foundation courses has attracted a vibrant community of passionate, highly motivated students. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’re located in Cambridge: the famous stomping grounds of scientists like Stephen Hawking and the aforementioned Newton, and home to a robust STEM community – with ample networking opportunities – today.

Higher education holds the key here. Students have developed a deeper understanding of their interests and can now decide which direction to take their education. They also recognise the global issues we currently face and come equipped with the means to help tackle them. STEM subjects can make a vital contribution here. From global technology to enterprise, it will – for better or worse – decide the direction in which humanity will develop. Giving them the focus, care, and respect they deserve yields results: a lesson which other schools – always having to divide their attentions – would do well to heed.

Posted in Bellerbys College, STEM | Tagged | 3 Comments

EUK responds to Swiss currency crisis

“While it’s a worrying time for the Swiss agencies, in our business – and, indeed, in any international business – currency fluctuations are an occupational hazard”

Eddie Byers is Chief Executive of English UK, the UK’s ELT organisation with around 470 members, fully-accredited language-teaching centres in the state and private sector.

The news that some Swiss agencies are apparently attempting to renegotiate commission agreements with partner schools elsewhere in Europe as a result of its soaring currency is raising a few eyebrows here in the UK.

The PIE’s story on the consequences of Switzerland’s unpegging of its franc from the Euro supported some of the stories we’re hearing from English UK members.

As your report explained, the rise in the value of the currency – by up to 15% – has given the Swiss consumer more buying power, which could be good news for language schools around Europe. The unexpected development is the reaction of some Swiss agencies, as they discover a drop in the value of their commission when it is paid in other currencies. Apparently, some agencies are “reaching out to partner schools asking for consideration of the new currency situation.”

While it’s a worrying time for the Swiss agencies, in our business – and, indeed, in any international business – currency fluctuations are an occupational hazard. Clearly, our sector thrives on goodwill and firm partnerships, but it’s hard to recall any event which has led to agencies accepting lower commissions en masse to help out international schools on the wrong end of an exchange rate movement.

“It’s hard to recall any event which has led to agencies accepting lower commissions en masse to help out international schools on the wrong end of an exchange rate movement”

It’s not just exchange rates which can harm profit margins: the vast majority of quality UK language schools have found themselves absorbing some significant rises in costs in recent years.

A few which immediately spring to mind are exchange rates at various times during the global financial crisis, increasing regulation and of course the student visa regime. Each year, our members invest in everything from teachers’ professional development, to new technology, course materials and upgrading the student environment.

“Here in the UK, our members genuinely feel the pain of Swiss agents: we’ve felt it ourselves as currencies wax and wane”

It wouldn’t be surprising if one or two agents were quietly asking to renegotiate with their partner centres: it’s part of the cut and thrust of international businesses. What would be surprising was if there was some wider spread to this, as the PIE story suggests.

Here in the UK, our members genuinely feel the pain of Swiss agents: we’ve felt it ourselves as currencies wax and wane. In good business partnerships, each side understands that life isn’t always easy for the other. But we also understand that exchange rates can go down as well as up, and we hope that agencies’ alarm is short-lived and self-resolving.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment