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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Hopes and aspirations: upholding the UK’s education brand

“Even my own mother called me to check that I’d not been working for what effectively had been depicted as a student battery farm”

Alex Causton-Ronaldson, Marketing & Communications Manager at the London School of Business and Management, writes on the importance of upholding the UK education sector’s reputation in the wake of the recent exam fraud scandal.

I started my life in Higher Education, like many others, as a Student Union Officer. With strong morals, ethics and ideals, I had plans to change the world from my glorified broom cupboard at the back of the campus wedged between the toilet and the canteen. Although my working situation has changed somewhat, my ideals have not.

After having spent time on the National Executive Council of NUS, you may be surprised to learn that I am now working for a private education provider. However for those of you that have yet to work outside of the public education sector, I can promise you, it’s not all that you may have thought it was. Or at least it’s not at London School of Business and Management.

“When the news broke, there seemed to be some confusion that the whole private HE sector had been abusing the ‘UK Higher Education’ brand for their own commercial ends”

With all of the current media coverage surrounding the alleged admissions malpractice of a number of private education providers, I thought I’d try and dispel the fear of impending doom that seems to come as such a comfortable bed partner to mention of private HE providers. When the news broke, there seemed to be some confusion that the whole private HE sector had been abusing the ‘UK Higher Education’ brand for their own commercial ends. Even my own mother called me to check that I’d not been working for what effectively had been depicted as a student battery farm.

The London School of Business and Management is far from that. The institution that I have recently joined is filled with staff passionate about raising aspirations of people across not only London, but the world. We are all committed not only to our students and applicants, but to the UK Higher Education brand and the thousands of professionals it represents across the sector. Not unlike countless others, regardless of the subsection of the sector you work in.

“This is a brand that is recognised the world over; the perception of a UK education being that of quality, honesty and integrity”

Across the sector, from the smallest private provider to the largest redbrick university, we have all worked tirelessly for many years (admittedly, for some more than others) to shape and deliver this incredible, inspirational and aspirational sector and ultimately; brand. This is a brand that is recognised the world over; the perception of a UK education being that of quality, honesty and integrity.

Therefore, for those of us working in marketing, recruitment and international offices, it is our responsibility to uphold the brand that so many have worked so hard to create. We therefore must, as a sector, seek to condemn those who work to capitalise from this hard work. At the end of the day, they are effectively destroying the hopes and aspirations of those who look to better themselves and their lives through higher education.

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Using student analytics to improve the student experience and underpin success at university  

 “Presented in a manageable way, data can be used to predict attainment, readily identify issues and implement the appropriate early intervention strategies”

Dr Paul Dowland, Senior Lecturer at Plymouth University and the architect of the S3 data system, discusses how data collected by systems such as Cengage Learning’s MindTap on the online activity of students, is being used effectively to identify top resources, improve the student experience and underpin success at university.

Student data in the form of exam results has been used in the past to evaluate the performance of individual departments within universities and student outcomes. Today universities are taking this one step further, using real-time data on student attendance, frequency of access to the university’s virtual learning environment (VLE) and level of contact with tutors. This is helping to improve student retention and results, as well as ensuring courses are better run.

Student analytics is defined by the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) as the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for the purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.

All universities have access to student data through their record systems and learning environments. Presented in a manageable way, this data can be used to predict attainment, to readily identify issues and to implement the appropriate early intervention strategies.

“It is important to remember that while data can be very useful, human skills are still required to interpret and apply the information in a useful way”

Data vs. human

It is important to remember that while data can be very useful, human skills are still required to interpret and apply the information in a useful way. One-to-one meetings between a lecturer and a student can uncover details that data analysis alone would be unable to provide.

A clear institution-wide policy on the role of data drawn from student analytics should be agreed at the onset. Data typically draws on information that is easy to measure, for example, it can confirm that a student has taken a book, but not if they have read it.

Data protection

Universities should ensure that students understand exactly why their personal data is being collected, processed and stored. It is also important that universities resist collecting too much data, irrespective of its relevance – the motivation for any system should be to facilitate information sharing for the benefit of the students.

“Universities should ensure that students understand exactly why their personal data is being collected, processed and stored”

Technology

At Plymouth University, we use the Student Support System (S3) to collect assessment submissions, monitor academic attainment, tutoring and attendance records. This helps lecturers to better manage and support over 15,000 students.

Commercial companies that store and analyse data include Oracle, SAS, Newton and Cengage Learning’s MindTap. MindTap is a new personal learning experience that combines all of the university’s digital assets – readings, multimedia, activities, and assessments,integrates with the university’s VLE and allows tutors to set mock exams using the assessment feature to track student progress and to identify areas where further tuition is required.

The future

Student analytics is an important development in higher education as, in an increasingly competitive market, the potential for using data to improve services, student retention and student success is clearly evident.

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New IELTS score requirement for doctors in the UK – why so high?

“Usually you wouldn’t expect an English Teacher and a Consultant Physician to have too much in common work-wise, but that day was different”

Andy Johnson, Development Manager at The London School of English looks at the decision by the General Medical Council to revise its criteria for assessing knowledge of English amongst its members, which comes into effect this week, and the implications of these changes.

I saw a friend of mine recently who is a doctor. He’s also an Arsenal fan, though he doesn’t like to admit that at the moment! We spoke about a number of things before the conversation turned to football and eventually to work. Usually you wouldn’t expect an English Teacher and a Consultant Physician to have too much in common work-wise, but that day was different and it had nothing to do with Arsène Wenger’s team. The reason was IELTS.

The General Medical Council (GMC) announced earlier this year that from 18 June 2014, the minimum IELTS scores they accept as evidence of knowledge of English when registering doctors to work in the UK will be:

  • A score of at least 7.0 in each of the four areas tested (speaking, listening, reading and writing)
  • And an overall score of at least 7.5

The GMC will accept only the academic version of the IELTS test. For those who are unfamiliar with the IELTS scores (ranging from 1 – 9), a score of 7.5 sits between a good, and very good user of English. Bands 6 – 9 break down as follows:

london school gmc

An overall score of 7.5 is a big ask. While a minimum score of 7.0 through the four modules – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking – seems achievable, now it is not enough. If you score 7.0 in say, speaking and writing, candidates would now need to score a minimum of 8.0 in the reading and listening papers to reach the minimum overall score. That is going to be very difficult for many candidates.

“An overall score of 7.5 is a big ask. That is going to be very difficult for many candidates”

Since these changes were announced by the GMC to its members, there has been quite an emotive response. If you take a look at the comments section on the GMC’s site, you get a sense of the depth of feeling on this topic.

Some have accused the GMC of outright discrimination, while others have warned that the UK should brace itself for a shortage of doctors in the coming months. There is an acceptance that of course a good working knowledge of English is a prerequisite to working in the UK, but this is tempered with a belief amongst members that the GMC is setting the bar too high, and that language command alone does not make you a good or bad doctor.

I cannot comment on that last point, but as a teacher with experience of the Academic module of the IELTS exam, I know how hard it is for any student to achieve an overall score of 7.5. I can understand the consternation amongst doctors and wonder if the GMC is making a rod for its own back. My friend felt the same. As a native speaker who works with many doctors for whom English is not their first language, he had a lot of sympathy with those who are going to be affected by these new requirements.

“I can understand the consternation amongst doctors and wonder if the GMC is making a rod for its own back”

The strict deadline doesn’t make things any easier. Students taking one of our intensive IELTS preparation courses often see their overall IELTS scores rise by up to one band. As with many things though, making leaps seems easier the lower the level, but the work required to keep improving becomes more difficult the higher up the scale you go.

That’s not to say that all is lost. Students can find many tips for improving their scores – for example, this blog post from The London School’s Laura, What to do in the IELTS exam, as well as practice activities on London School Online. At the school we see students scoring high on IELTS all the time.

You can hear from Malika, a former student who achieved an 8.0 in her exam here: Malika interview video.

This was originally posted on The London School’s language blog.

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Why less student mobility from China may not be the end of the world for UK education

“UK higher education institutions and their international student populations stand to lose less from the coming slowdown in Chinese outbound mobility than many may presume”

The following is an extract from the British Council’s Education in East Asia – By the Numbers report entitled ‘Why less student mobility from China may not be the end of the world for UK education’. 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.

A recent report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on global demand for English higher education has generated a great deal of attention among education practitioners and media outlets in the UK. Most coverage focused rightfully on the first net drop in international enrolment in English higher education in 29 years, as well as discussion of the various causes of this decline. With a touch of hyperbole, the Economist claimed that England’s higher education institutions were showing the world “how to ruin a global brand.”

“With a touch of hyperbole, the Economist claimed that England’s higher education institutions were showing the world ‘how to ruin a global brand’”

Given the particularly precipitous decline in new enrolments from south Asia – by upwards of 50 per cent in two years – some commenters have latched onto any good news that they can find, especially the continued rise in the number of students from China, as a bright spot for the UK sector[1]. One even proclaimed UK higher education to be “an industry winning an important share of the huge and growing Chinese market.”

But this way of thinking about China may already be outdated, as growth in China’s outbound student market has rapidly slowed. In fact, by focusing on the modest rise in overall enrolments from China, commentators overlook the surprising halt in growth at undergraduate levels in the UK in 2012/13. With students from China making up not only the largest sending market to the UK, but also the fastest growing one in recent years, this slowdown in Chinese enrolments would appear to foreshadow crisis for the UK higher education sector.

Somewhat strangely, however, UK higher education institutions and their international student populations stand to lose less from the coming slowdown in Chinese outbound mobility than many may presume. What’s more, the UK education sector is better prepared to weather a fallow period from China than any other major English speaking destination country.

Slowing dragon

There is no doubting the outsized importance of China’s student market to the UK. China enrolled 32,000 more students in UK higher education in 2012/13 than it did only five years prior, accounting for fully 60 per cent of growth in total new enrolments of international students over this time period. Today, more than one in five international students comes from China, up from one in eight as recently as 2007/08.

“There is no doubting the outsized importance of China’s student market to the UK”

What’s more, China’s outbound student market appears at first glance to be in fine health.  New enrolments in UK higher education increased by more than six per cent in 2012/13 from the year before, even as international enrolments from other countries declined[2].

The good news: New enrolments from China in UK higher education, by level of study

The good news: New enrolments from China in UK higher education, by level of study

Appearances can be deceiving though.  The seemingly healthy bump in first-year enrolments from China in UK higher education in 2012/13 masked the slowest rate of expansion since 2007/08. Moreover, all of this growth was concentrated in postgraduate courses, with new enrolments at both undergraduate levels registering net declines. In particular, new enrolments in first-degree courses came to a halt in 2012/13 after averaging 18 per cent annual growth over the period from 2007 to 2012.

In other words, if China was the engine of growth for the UK sector from 2007/08 until 2011/12, it downshifted quite dramatically in 2012/13. And if current trends in undergraduate enrolments in the UK are a harbinger of things to come, total new enrolments could stall by as early as 2014/15, weighed down by a shrinking youth population and slowing economic growth. This will only put further pressure on UK institutions to seek new sources of international students.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel for the UK.

The tipping point

For one thing, the UK education sector is still far less dependent on Chinese enrolments than other major English language speaking countries, particularly Australia, where nearly two fifths of all international students in higher education come from China. Even when excluding EU enrolments from the international student population, the UK is less dependent on China for international enrolments than Australia, Canada or the US, meaning that the UK sector will feel the effects of a slowdown in new Chinese enrolments less than other education markets might.

While UK higher education is less reliant on China’s student market overall, some UK institutions have grown worryingly dependent on China for international enrolments in recent years. To wit, in 2002/03, there were 11 UK institutions at which first-year students from China comprised more than 30 per cent of all new international enrolments; by 2012/13, fully 30 institutions fit this profile, and two universities enrolled more Chinese students than all other international students combined… [Continue reading]

[1]While HEFCE’s report focused solely on English higher education institutions, the picture is largely the same for the entire UK sector.  

[2]All statistics for UK higher education institutions come from Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

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Third culture kids: the blended identity of an international education

“International schools provide a comprehensive cross-cultural education that gives students access to a global, mobile community that is defined by its internationalism”

Emily Buchanan, a professional writer living in Norwich, UK, who’s passionate about education, the environment, and human rights, writes on the value of an international education and the ‘third culture’ identity of students at international schools.

For a young family which is given the opportunity to relocate abroad for a new job or promotion, there are going to be a number of things to consider. From accommodation to healthcare, planning before you go is paramount to a successful move. One of the most important things to come to terms with is education. As a newcomer, what can you expect from an international school and how will it change the way your child defines themselves?

International schools are ideal for expat families in that they cater to students who are not nationals of the host country. This can include children of international business owners, international organisations and companies, foreign embassies, NGOs, charities or missionary programs.

On first glance, this may concern some parents. After all, how will your child mix with their peers if their school is populated by students from other countries? However, many local children attend international schools to learn English and to obtain qualifications that they might not have access to in other schools – such as the International Baccalaureate, Edexcel or Cambridge International Examinations.

These certificates of education are highly regarded and for this reason, demand for an international education is high. The market has grown exponentially in recent years, with statistics from the International School Consultancy Group (ISC) predicting that by the end of the year, there will be 7,200 international schools teaching over 3.7 million students in English.

“Rather than identifying with any one country or culture, many internationally-educated children and adults will consider themselves global citizens”

This market growth can partially be attributed to the advance of globalisation but also to the growth of the middle classes in emerging markets. This new population of working, well-off families has meant that in some markets, 80% of enrolment demand is from local parents who want to prepare their children for foreign university degrees. When you consider that 20 years ago, most international schools were dominated by expat students, it just goes to show how well integrated international schools have become within their local communities.

International schools provide a rigorous and comprehensive cross-cultural education that immerses students in multiple languages and gives them access to a global, mobile community that is defined by its internationalism. Anyone who has been to international school or knows someone who has will appreciate the unique cultural identity this gives you.

Firstly, if you are always on the move, your children will have spent very little time in their country of origin. Therefore, rather than identifying with any one country or culture, many internationally-educated children and adults will consider themselves “global citizens” or “Third Culture Kids”.

At an international school, where you’re from is less about birthplace and more about cultural identity. “As an expat student your cultural identity ends up being difficult to categorise,” Hannah Smith, a 16-year-old British-Taiwanese student currently living in Beijing, writes in the Guardian. “This lack of definition means that I’ve ended up in a murky haze of different cultures, with bits and pieces from everywhere I’ve lived and everyone I’ve met.”

“International students’ culture can be spotted in their tell-tale ‘international school accent’ which is a kind of transatlantic timbre that’s difficult to place”

International students relate to each other through this hybrid identification process and eventually settle on a culture that is typified by their education. This can be spotted in their tell-tale “international school accent” which is a kind of transatlantic timbre that’s difficult to place. The result of an English-speaking education that encourages bilingual conversations and cross-cultural lessons, international school accents give their students a sense of belonging and a root in an otherwise culturally disparate environment.

One of the many great advantages of international school is that students are more open to people from all walks of life. In the very fabric of their education, students are exposed to a multitude of cultures, languages, religions and values. They learn how to adapt quickly to change and how to form and nourish fast friendships. This promotes a broad-minded spirit and a multicultural attitude of acceptance. Indeed, with multiculturalism and International Baccalaureate qualifications increasingly transforming state schools, international schools might not be traditional, but they certainly reflect the future of education in a truly globalised world.

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