Evidencing Success for International Students in Higher Education

“It’s one thing to see growth in your international student numbers, but unless you can see them through to graduation, can that be merited as success? “

“Much discussion is had over international student recruitment numbers at conferences and in the media,” says Market Development director for NCUK Georgina Jones. However, she adds, if you try and look into how international students perform at university there seems to be very little information out there.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) provides details for high school performance but as far as we have seen, there is nothing for higher education performance.

The other year, the University of Manchester held an event to celebrate 10 years of their Equity and Merit scholarships scheme. I happened to be on the same table as an NCUK alumnus and we got to talking about her experience. She spoke so highly of her NCUK qualification as once at University, she felt she had adapted quickly to the mode of study and expectations.

“I even knew more than some of the British students sometimes” she beamed. She also added that this allowed her to assimilate more quickly to life in Manchester – very different from home in Nairobi.

“This got me thinking about the wider implications of international student recruitment”

I’d once had the pleasure to attend a presentation by Peter Hilary, mountain climber and son of the great Sir Edmund Hilary. He posed the question he had debated with fellow climbers “Is it enough to climb the mountain, or can success only be measured once you get down?” A heated debate followed.

The following day the group of eight set off to climb the second highest mountain in the world, but only Peter survived. You can read the story online.

In context for this blog, it’s one thing to see growth in your international student numbers but unless you can see them through to graduation, can that be merited as success? Please note, I’m not suggesting in any way this is comparable to the situation the climbers faced.

Because of our unique relationships with our universities, since 2008, NCUK has been able to collate performance data of our students at 12 of our UK universities. The report tracks student performance from NCUK qualifications, including their English language levels, through each year of their studies at university. Over 7,500 students’ results have been analysed.

Whilst the results are probably fairly consistent with the average distribution of degree awards in the UK, there are some interesting findings:

  • Since 2009, first-year undergraduate pass rates has been 89% or above with a high of 94% in 2014.
  • 80% of NCUK students graduate with a first or second class degree. The largest increase is in the proportion of students receiving a 2:1 or higher, now around 50%.
  • Of students who are admitted with below the published admission criteria, 88% go on to pass their first year, compared to 92% and 95% for those who met or exceed the criteria.

This performance data is shared with NCUK universities which in turn contributes to the continuous enhancements of our qualifications. We have a data-rich repository of anonymised student progression data and as well as it forming part of our academic quality management, perhaps there is more that we could do with it.

“What would make this really more useful to the international higher education market is if there were others out there that would be willing to share their data and/or someone interested in taking this further as a research project. If that’s you, get in touch.”

If you’d like to read some of the student profiles and find out more, please get in touch or visit our website to download a copy of the report. I’ll be sharing the findings as part of a presentation at NAFSA, 8.30am on Friday 1st June.

Georgina Jones’ previous roles include teaching and managing international schools and colleges to developing transnational higher education partnerships. As Market Development director for NCUK, she is responsible for establishing new partnerships and supporting NCUK Partners and universities in the recruitment of international higher education students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.