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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Top Ten Things Not To Do When Internationalising a School

“Be realistic. You secure a good deal for your school, but if you are too greedy it will merely sour the ongoing relationship”

Having offered some pointers on what to do when internationalising a school, Dr Mark Abell of international law firm Bird & Bird shares some advice on what not to do when taking the plunge.

1. Be Greedy

Be realistic. You secure a good deal for your school, but if you are too greedy it will merely sour the ongoing relationship and lead to a renegotiation of terms when you have a less flexible and perhaps weaker bargaining position. You will not be able to rely on the agreements to oblige your local partner to operate in a way that delivers an appropriate return on investment.

2. Be too Ambitious

Again, be realistic. It takes a great deal of time, energy and capital to successfully open and operate a school overseas. If you put more emphasis on the number of schools opening rather than the quality of the school, things will go badly wrong in the mid-term.

“Be realistic. It takes a great deal of time, energy and capital to successfully open and operate a school overseas”

3. Under-Sell Yourself

It is important that you do not allow the local partner to build an extremely profitable business on the back of your school without the school receiving a fair share of those profits.

4. Expose the School to Any Commercial Risk

Ensure that you use a trading company for all third party relationships involved in the running of the overseas school. Obtain appropriate insurance cover and beware potential personal liability for the school Governors.

5. Get Too Complicated

Sophisticated structuring may be appropriate for some schools, but make sure that you don’t get sucked into overly complex schemes. They can become expensive and reduce your ability to control and exit the relationship if necessary.

6. Allow Your Potential Local Partner to Dictate the Structure

You must be in control. Listen to the partner’s concerns, take into account the local regulatory environment, but it is for you to decide the structure.

“Listen to the partner’s concerns, take into account the local regulatory environment but you must be in control”

7. Do It On The Cheap

Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Take good advice from professionals with a real track record in taking schools overseas and ensure that they can deliver more than just dry technical documentation.

8. Compromise Your School Ethos/Values

These should be the corner stone for the structuring of the deal, the documentation and the ongoing relationship.

9. Assume That The Overseas School Will be The Same As The One in the UK

A consistent approach is essential, but inevitably the demands and idiosyncrasies of each market may well mean that new challenges arise. You need to be prepared for this.

10. Underestimate The Amount Of Time And Energy It Will Take To Manage the Relationship With The Overseas School

Make sure that you have a suitable project management team on board. Governors have day time jobs and cannot always devote sufficient time. Academic staff may lack experience and have other duties. The Bursar may have too many other challenges to face. Make sure that everyone is aware of the demands that the deal will place on them and that they can meet those demands.

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How YouTube Increased Classroom Pass Rates by 31%

“How students gather, view and share data is undergoing a silent revolution, thanks to innovations like cloud computing and touchscreen technology”

Marlon Gallano from TYD shares some thoughts and a handy infographic on how YouTube videos can be used to enhance in-classroom teaching.

Let’s face it, times have changed, and so have students. They no longer want to learn by sitting in a desk for hours, while the teacher doles out boring facts and figures without end.  Cumbersome school supplies are being replaced by all-in-one tablets and smartphones. Instead of sharpening pencils, more and more students are pulling out the stylus.

How students gather, view and share data is undergoing a silent revolution, thanks to innovations like cloud computing and touchscreen technology. Although many teachers long for the good old days, they have to admit, they find it far faster and easier to update tests, lessons and books virtually using today’s modern methodologies. Education is becoming globally-expansive, uniting students and educators around the world, thanks to modern teaching methods.

And then there’s YouTube. YouTube videos takes the education transformation to another level. With the availability of a variety of topics, teachers have the tools they need at their fingertips to teach everything and anything they want with ease.

You may have utilised YouTube to figure out how to fix that annoying printer problem or create a weekend craft project, but did you know YouTube provides a variety of interesting learning channels to engage and create a spark in your students? Find out how YouTube can enable you to share your lessons between classrooms, tearing down walls and opening a world of learning to your students.

And if you still insist on using traditional methods of teaching, that’s okay. YouTube is an effective classroom companion to book learning, helping students struggling with a topic or complex concept.

Although students are changing, education can keep up with those changes by embracing innovation. Thanks to modern technology, we can update our classrooms and teaching methods to connect with students and how they want to learn today.

dcDI7Jd

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The Top Ten Things To Do When Internationalising a School

“If a partner offers to open a large number of schools in the short or mid term, they are usually either naive or disingenuous”

From communication with partners to understanding the regulatory landscape in a new market, expanding abroad can be fraught with challenges. Dr Mark Abell of international law firm Bird & Bird offers some advice on the steps to take when internationalising a school.

Expanding British Schools overseas presents real and unique challenges.

Perhaps in part due to the enthusiastic support that internationalisation of British schools  is receiving from both UKTI and the Business Secretary, Wellington College, Brighton College, Dulwich College, Repton and Sherborne are just some of the schools that have embraced this challenge and secured new income streams that help ensure their long term future.

However, such projects are not without their challenges. One slip can cause serious damage to a school’s reputation and financial well-being.

1. Conduct an Intellectual Property Audit

The school’s brand/name is its most valuable asset. Before starting any discussions with potential partners overseas you must have your brand and other intellectual property assets audited by a legal expert and decide on an appropriate registration strategy. There are many brand trolls out there who will register the school’s brand in their market before approaching you to negotiate a deal. Protecting the school’s trade marks is not merely a matter of filing a couple of applications in one or two classes. It requires careful consideration of both the longer term commercial and legal issues involved.

“There are many brand trolls out there who will register the school’s brand before approaching you to negotiate a deal”

2. Don’t be Seduced by Promises of Large Profits

Establishing a school in a new market that truly reflects your school’s ethos and delivers the same quality of academic and pastoral experiences for students takes a great deal of time and money, especially so if a potential partner has no previous experience of operating a school. If a partner offers to open a large number of schools in the short or mid term, they are usually either naive or disingenuous. Appealing to the governors’ desire to secure substantial long term income streams often suggests that the partner is going to be focused less on operational issues and more on the profits. Either way, you need to be extremely cynical about extravagant claims and focus on a deal that has far more modest and realistic objectives.

3. Conduct Due Diligence on Potential Partners

Don’t trust anyone. Too many potential partners think a school is just another way of making money and will have little regard for the school’s traditions, ethos and overarching objectives. You need to know what skeletons there are in the cupboard before you spend time and money on negotiating a deal with an inappropriate third party.

“You need to know what skeletons there are in the cupboard before you spend time and money on negotiating a deal”

4. Understand the Regulatory Environment in the Target Markets

Every market is unique. All countries regulate education to some degree. The Middle East and China, both areas of prime interest for British schools, regulate education in strict and very different ways. Some regulators, such as China, differentiate between education for ex-patriate children and that for their own nationals. Others, for example Dubai, require full, hands-on involvement by the British school. It is important to engage with the regulator early on in the process and way before the deal is agreed.

5. Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

Be realistic. How much resource do you have? How much support will you be able to deliver an overseas school? Will you be able to assist in staff recruitment and training sufficiently? Can you support more than one school? Will you have to invest in more resource and how much will that cost?

6. Make sure that you receive an appropriate income stream from the school

As more and more British schools internationalise through local partnerships, a general “going rate” is developing. This varies depending upon exactly what the school is delivering to the local partner, of course. Opening fees as well as ongoing royalties are the norm. Thought also needs to be given to the financial implications of a sale or even an IPO by the local partner. Tax planning is also essential. The impact of withholding taxes is particularly important considering the charitable status of schools. Expert legal advice is essential.

“It is essential that you ensure the ongoing quality of the education delivered by your overseas school”

7. Ensure that you adopt a structure that enables you to have full and proper input into the running of the overseas school

It is essential that you ensure the ongoing quality of the education delivered by your overseas school. However, it will probably be financed by your local partner. You need to ensure that the corporate governance of the school enables you to have a full say on the annual budget and how it is spent.

8. Be prepared to monitor the ongoing performance of your overseas school 

You must ensure that they comply with the relevant KPIs. Rigorous auditing of the local partners’ performance is an essential part of quality assurance. This may involve the acquisition of new skill sets.

9. Take expert professional advice

The stakes are high, so invest in the appropriate legal expertise from lawyers with proven track record in internationalising schools. Education is like no other sector and you will need more than the generation of legal documentation. You will need strategic, structural and commercial advice from lawyers who have been there, done it and got the metaphorical T-shirt.

“The stakes are high, so invest in the appropriate legal expertise from lawyers with proven track record in internationalising schools”

10. Communicate with your local partner

Listen to what your local partner says. They should be able to help you improve your overseas school through sharing their experiences operating it. Ensure that they are happy and feel that they are deriving real value from the relationship. Make sure that they feel able to inform you about issues before they become problems.

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English-language testing: Enabling the UK to stay on the forefront of recruiting international students

“Changes that limit institutions’ testing options can have a big impact by setting the UK behind its higher education sector competitors and negatively impacting this important export industry”

Earlier this year, the UK government opted not to extend its licence agreement with global testing giant ETS to provide Secure English Language Testing as required in the student visa application process. Here its Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David Payne argues against limiting TOEFL score acceptance, saying that changes to an open English-language testing environment built on choice can put at risk UK universities’ ability to attract the brightest and best international students.

One common way in which universities around the world do attract the brightest students is by relying on standardised, globally accessible English-language tests, such as the TOEFL iBT® test, to assess candidates and make informed admissions decisions.

However, recent changes threaten UK universities’ competitiveness, as the TOEFL test may now only be used under “vouching” provisions. In many parts of the world, the TOEFL test is far better known than any other English-proficiency test, and its worldwide testing network enables the best and brightest students to consider study in the UK. By limiting TOEFL score acceptance, will the UK be able to maintain its reputation and the perception that it is an attractive and open destination for international students?

“By limiting TOEFL score acceptance, will the UK be able to maintain the perception that it is an attractive and open destination for international students?”

Changes that limit institutions’ testing options can have a big impact by setting the UK behind its higher education sector competitors and negatively impacting this important export industry. In 2012–13, international students made up 18% of the total student population, and 74% of master’s courses are taught by international students. Both numbers indicate the UK’s reliance on international students to fill UK university courses as both students and instructors. Indeed, a recent study from Universities UK stated strong public support for this industry, a view backed by businesses and the Institute of Directors.

English language tests matter. Often, students will take just one test, and they want to ensure it is accepted everywhere as they may apply to multiple institutions in different countries. Limiting test options risks closing off the UK and driving a perception that the country is no longer open for business to the world’s brightest students. A number of UK universities recognise this threat and continue to use the TOEFL test under vouching provisions as an important recruiting tool because they have confidence in its results.

“Limiting test options risks closing off the UK and driving a perception that the country is no longer open for business to the world’s brightest students”

The challenge is not just about enrolment figures, but how higher education institutions can vie for the revenue and intellectual capital they receive from recruiting an international student pool that is also highly sought after by the United States, France and Australia (where a five-year plan for international students has seen a 10 percent rise in international students) as well as emerging hubs such as China and Malaysia.

Australia is indicative here. The TOEFL test is accepted by the Australian government for student visas. The government has now announced its intention to begin using the test for visas for graduates as well as for almost all skilled, business, work and holiday categories. The decisive expansion of English-proficiency options by government means that Australian businesses now have access to a greater pool of potential employees than they did before.

As the world’s largest nonprofit private research and assessment organisation, ETS has a long, established tradition of research to ensure that the TOEFL test — currently recognised in over 130 countries — remains the gold standard for English-proficiency testing for university admissions. Celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2014, the test is at the forefront of security innovation, including the implementation of biometric voice identification for all test takers worldwide — the only English-proficiency test to do so.

The UK remains a beacon for learning, celebrated for its role in welcoming students from around the world and grooming global citizens. International students bring significant benefits to the UK. A robust English-language testing environment, with choice and competition, is a small but important foundation upon which this is built. ETS and the TOEFL Program remain committed to UK universities and to working with the higher education sector in maintaining that international reputation.

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Interning abroad: don’t overlook the BRICS

“Interning in one of the BRICS is particularly compelling; people are intrigued by my experience in an ‘edgier’ destination than most traditional European study abroad countries”

Marie Lefebvre is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley currently interning at CRCC Asia in San Francisco. She returned to the US in July from a year abroad in Brazil, where she interned at the BRICS-Policy center in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (FUNBIO) and a start-up accelerator called Outsource Brazil. Here she writes about her experiences and why people shouldn’t be too quick to write off the BRICS as study destinations.

While career prospects for the hordes of college graduates in Europe and the United States grow slimmer year by year, the inverse is true in the BRICS. By now a household name since Goldman-Sachs reported in 2011 that the original four countries would overtake the world’s economic powers by 2050, the BRICS acronym represents the so-called emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and, as of 2012, the newest member: South Africa. This group of economies, that accounts for the majority of the world’s economic growth and has come together on a variety of initiatives, makes up a powerful bloc that counters US and EU dominance in world affairs.

As a former intern in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I have seen and experienced first-hand the vast opportunities available in the BRICS for students seeking meaningful work experience. During my year studying there, I completed three internships. Although they varied in sector – from an environmental NGO to a research think-tank to a start-up accelerator – across the board I noticed that companies valued fluent English-speakers in order to gain and maintain global relevance. Furthermore, since I have returned to the US, I have noticed in my own job search that my experience abroad makes my resume stand out. The fact that I have internship experience abroad makes people curious, and it shows I am willing to step outside my comfort zone. Interning in one of the BRICS is particularly compelling; people are intrigued by my experience in an “edgier” destination than most traditional European study abroad countries.

“Across the board I noticed that companies valued fluent English-speakers in order to gain and maintain global relevance”

If nothing else, it’s a great conversation starter: talking about travel is a great way to break the ice at an interview. Commuting to work from a beach-side bus stop, just a day in my life as an intern abroad in Brazil!

Each of the BRICS countries has unique factors that make them attractive to potential interns from abroad. Brazil has a relaxed work culture compared to most countries. On the other hand, South Africa is one of the most racially diverse countries in the world. Russia is Europe’s energy giant and gearing up to host the next World Cup. India is one of the largest countries in not only the BRICS, but the world. Lastly, China’s appeal cannot be ignored, as it is home to the world’s most spoken language, and stands out for being the world’s largest trading partner. China’s GDP is expected to surpass the United States’ around 2020 and become the world’s next superpower. Overall, all of the countries are exciting places to be given their economic growth.

“China’s GDP is expected to surpass the United States’ around 2020. Overall, all of the BRICS are exciting places to be given their economic growth”

It’s true that the various barriers to entry can be intimidating. Visas, paperwork, lack of contacts, not to mention the language – the list goes on. Luckily, there are resources and agencies that can help you navigate the foreign work culture and red tape. Studying abroad in a BRICS country will also help you tap into resources not readily available to others as doing so already entails completing a lot of the paperwork and provides you with a network in your given country. In my case, I looked at bulletin boards at my university in Rio for internship openings, and my UC Education Abroad Program adviser in Brazil helped me get an internship by tapping into her own network to help me find one. For those unable to study abroad, or for those perhaps lacking foreign language skills, agencies such as CRCC Asia place students or recent graduates into one to three-month English-language internships in their chosen sector, providing support before and during the program. Programs like CRCC Asia’s China Internship Program provide support and services like visa processing, accommodations, internship placement, orientation, language classes, and networking events.

CRCC Asia interns Shenzhen, China explore the city during their time off .

CRCC Asia interns Shenzhen, China explore the city during their time off .

CRCC Asia alum Shuwen Zhang is a Chinese national originally from Shanghai. Zhang, despite being a full-time student at NYU, chose to return to China as a summer intern to increase his future career prospects. He is not alone; many Chinese citizens choose to return to China in a professional capacity, and CRCC Asia enables them to tap into the program’s well-established network in the country. This is particularly helpful because it lets students find an internship in a sector where they may not have any contacts. Zhang says his improved communication skills in particular will stay with him well after his internship: “The internship was beneficial to my future career goals. There is a big chance that I’ll choose to work in Shanghai after graduation. Knowing how it [business in China] actually works, especially the relationships among colleagues, prepares me better work life in Shanghai.”

“Knowing how business in China actually works, especially the relationships among colleagues, prepares me better work life in Shanghai”

UPenn student Melusine Boon Falleur recalls her time interning in China as a chance to have an authentic experience abroad while improving her Chinese, an invaluable asset considering she hopes to work with China in the future. Melusine, who did mainly research and translations for Beijing’s Design week, reflected that “interning abroad is overall an amazing experience because whatever your work is, you will learn a lot about the company, your co-workers but also the culture and business practices of the country.”

Among other linguistic and cultural motivations, she was drawn to China for the main reason the BRICS are so appealing to live and work in: its thriving economy and business culture. Thanks to her one-month internship in Beijing, she has now has more networking opportunities in China and a better understanding of the work environment there: “For example, I learned that I really need to improve my Mandarin and gain more work experience in the United States or Europe if I want to be competitive in the Chinese job market.”

Melusine Boon Falleur poses in front of the Beijing Design Week office where she interned in August 2014

Melusine Boon Falleur poses in front of the Beijing Design Week office where she interned in August 2014

Interning in one of the BRICS will help your résumé stand out in an increasingly globalized world, giving you cultural experiences and fluency that would be an asset to any company aiming to be globally competitive. Although it may be difficult at first adjusting to a completely new country and work culture, you will be challenged in new ways and you will come back with valuable work experience, new friends, and perhaps even some new language skills.

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Summer on the high seas: to festival or not to festival

“I had traveled first by ship across four countries, then plane, then shuttle, then train, then taxi, then bus to get to the 2014 Slotsfjell Festival in Tonsburg, Norway”

Lauren Hartig, Director of the Field Office at Semester at Sea, gives readers of The PIE Blog a taste of what staff and students experience on a voyage in a three-part blog series. Here she shares the second instalment of her travel adventures as she spends the summer on the high seas.

slottsfjell

When you are traveling and working on a ship voyaging across Europe, each port can seem like an entire lifetime – in the best possible way. As the Director of the Field Office for the Semester at Sea summer 2014 voyage, my work days while we are at sea are long and laborious, but always rewarding. Then we get to spend four to five days in each port and when I get the chance to indulge my passion for music and meeting new people in new places I always take it. This is how I found myself among the beautiful hordes of Norwegians dancing to one of my favorite Swedish bands, Lykke Li.

I had traveled first by ship across four countries, then plane, then shuttle, then train, then taxi, then bus to get to the 2014 Slotsfjell Festival in Tonsburg, Norway. In our pre-port logistical mandatory meeting for the entire shipboard community we learned that Norway was utterly stunning and can also be extremely expensive. We were told that the people were friendly, but not overly so by American standards. I packed for my overnight with snacks in my bags and old fashioned paper copy travel books.

Fast forward eight hours and I am dancing atop a beautiful rock on the festival grounds (which also housed a former Viking fortress) with an equally incredible night of endless daylight backdrop and I thought to myself “this was worth every kroner to get here”.

With a sun drenched sky on the second day, reminiscent of my San Diego hometown, I embarked on the full repertoire of festival fun. Within mere minutes of entering the festival grounds, I was adopted by a twosome of smart and spunky Norwegian girls. They were here to have a good time and as soon as they heard my story, they wanted to make sure I did as well. I was also clearly the only US citizen there and quite the anomaly.

“I was clearly the only US citizen there and quite the anomaly”

We embarked on adventures that ranged from “American” dancing lessons, me giving yoga lessons on top of picnic tables, and introductions all around to all kinds of people and more musical variety than I have seen in a while. For them, the festival was about getting to hang out with their main group of friends, some leaving for home up north directly after and others traveling for University or out of Norway. For me, attending music festivals was mainly about the music, but in recent years it has also become about new experiences and people and locations, especially in international destinations.

On my travels I had incredible help from and discussions with everyone from the train operator, the girl at reception at my hostel, and the young girls working the festival on the ½ hour bus ride back to my hostel. I will and would highly recommend any kind of festivals in a new country to any and all of my friends. Festivals in some form have been around for centuries as people gather together to celebrate with food, music, and dance.  The way we choose to travel in and around the world (like the way we approach our time in port), can lead to a different approach to “travel”, travel for more than pleasure, but travel to connect to different kinds of people in different parts of the world. So how do you travel?

Lauren Jane Hartig is an international educator who has traveled to over 42 different countries and is always looking for the next adventure! She is currently on leave from University of California, San Diego and is serving as the Director of the Field Office for the Semester at Sea Summer 2014 voyage. Read the first instalment of her travel blog here.

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As student numbers have increased, so too has our reliance on agents

“The fact that most students and universities are satisfied with agents does not mean that activity and relationships are maximised”

Vincenzo Raimo, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Reading and Dr Iona Huang, Senior Lecturer, Harper Adams University, share their thoughts on OBHE’s recent report on agent use and what more can be done to support universities to optimise their agent relationships.

The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) this week published an incredibly informative report on international student recruitment agents. Many of the findings will not come as a surprise to those working in this area. Agents are vital to universities meeting international student recruitment targets and as student numbers have increased, so too has our reliance on agents. In fact, the OBHE reports that agents are now almost as important as university web sites in students deciding where to study.

But the fact that most students and universities are satisfied with agents, as found by the OBHE, does not mean that activity and relationships are maximised and that UK universities do not have issues with their agent work that needs attention. It is worrying that the OBHE found 20% of UK university relationships with agents to be outside of any formal contract and that where contracts exist 45% do not include any performance measures.

“It is worrying that the OBHE found 20% of UK university relationships with agents to be outside of any formal contract”

Together with Christine Humfrey, special professor in International Higher Education at the University of Nottingham, we will be publishing our own report on UK universities work with international student recruitment agents next month. Like the OBHE we found that almost all UK universities make explicit use of international student recruitment agents to achieve their objectives. But while the British Council, the Quality Assurance Agency and the UK Council for International Student Affairs all provide some guidance on the use of agents, there is very little support for universities on how to ensure their agent activity is utilised safely and to best effect. And unlike the position in some other countries such as Australia and New Zealand, there is no national framework or rules governing the way universities work with agents in the UK. Each university which works with agents has its own policies and procedures, framework for relationships and commission rates.

With the support of The British Council and the collaboration of a representative group of universities, including one which claims not to use agents, in-depth interviews, data collection and analysis of university– agent relationships, from the university perspective, were undertaken in 2013 to help better inform the sector’s use of agents and to  share good practice.

“There is very little support for universities on how to ensure their agent activity is utilised safely and to best effect”

Our study reports the view from universities and different approaches adopted to agent relationships.  We found that in most cases more could be done to ensure greater returns on investment in agent relationships while also providing greater protection for universities. Ten recommendations emerged from our research. Adoption of the recommendations will very much depend on an individual institutions risk appetite: how much are they willing to invest (time and money), what sorts of agencies they are happy to contract with and what type of contractual relationships they are prepared to accept.

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Summer on the high seas: the voyage begins

“This voyage has already been at times glorious, exhausting, and so rewarding”

Lauren Hartig, Director of the Field Office at Semester at Sea, gives readers ofThe PIE Blog a taste of what staff and students experience on a voyage in a three-part blog series. Here she gives the first instalment of her travel adventures as she spends the summer on the high seas.

Field OfficeAs an educator who loves everything international, it was my ultimate goal to be a staff member on Semester at Sea. Ten years ago that dream was realised when I sailed on the Semester at Sea Fall 2004 voyage. Even before I officially disembarked from that journey, I knew it was something I wanted to repeat as many times as possible. Ten years later, a career switch from student affairs to international education (plus a master of advanced studies in international relations) and I find myself back on the ship and in a different role.

At the NAFSA conference, I had several past voyagers remark to me that the Field Office can be the hardest and most time consuming role on the ship. After a few days at sea and an average of 12 hours a day, the best analogy is that the Field Office is like a really intense and awesome game of Tetris, but with people and places. And using a really old Gameboy! There is internet on the ship and my office receives what is probably the best connection, but by today’s minimum standard, “best” is far from what we have come to expect in our day to day technological fervor.

“The Field Office is like a really intense and awesome game of Tetris, but with people and places”

My job focuses on the actual in country experiences – the field labs and the field programs. Semester at Sea is a multi-country interdisciplinary experience with 41 faculties offering 49 class options, of which the students take 3-4. Class days are while we are at sea (even on a Saturday and Sunday based on the schedule) and each class has an in-country eight hour Field Lab developed with the home office (ISE – Institute for Shipboard Education) well in advance. Some of the choices for the summer 2014 students include Politics of Sustainable Consumption, Economic Development & Entrepreneurship, and Hormones & Health. The 465 students on our voyage come from over 212 different universities and represent 41 states and 21 countries. As we have come to expect in study abroad programs, the majority of students are female by an almost 70/30 ratio. The students, faculty, and staff can choose to travel independently in our 10 different ports/countries in Europe and Scandinavia over the next 66 days or they can sign up for overnight or day trips that the Field Office organizes and facilities in Virginia and on the ship.

This voyage has already been at times glorious, exhausting, and so rewarding. A personal highlight for me was leading a dozen students to a Wild Animal Recovery Shelter for and IMPACT trip (a service oriented experience) and getting to cuddle a baby rabbit.

If you would like to follow along with our specific voyage, please visit the semester sea News from the Helm website at www.semesteratsea.org and look for Summer 2014 updates. Stay tuned for more from me as I attempt to keep afloat in the Field Office and meet as many students and attend as many local festivals in as many countries as possible!

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