A bright future for pathway providers

“As many British universities struggle with finances, pathways offer a potential solution”

Study Group was officially accepted onto the Office for Students (OfS) register of Higher Education Providers late last year after meeting requirements for course quality, academic standards, student support and student protection.

This means that, for the first time in the UK, international students studying on a pathway programme have all the same Tier 4 visa rights as international students at UK universities. These rights include new provisions for working and visa extension options, as well as various new privileges for Pre-Masters students.

While Study Group has become the first pathway provider to receive OfS recognition, we expect others to follow close behind. The move signals greater recognition of the valuable services that pathway providers offer and the potential for increased collaboration between universities and these programmes in the future.

A solution to economic woes

As many British universities struggle with finances, pathway programmes offer a potential solution. Just last year, one university required an OfS bailout of almost £1 million, and three others were on the brink of bankruptcy.

International students pay higher tuition fees than British students and can provide a desperately needed source of income for higher education institutions. The most recent data from Universities UK in 2017 estimated that the collective tuition fees of international students amounted to £4.8 billion annually, making up more than 14% of total university income.

We can expect that figure to be even higher now. International students are also a boon to the larger UK economy, with those that remain to work and contribute their skills in the UK generating approximately £3.2 billion in taxes every year. They also add huge value to the learning environment for domestic UK students as well.

Pathway providers offer a robust addition to universities’ own recruitment infrastructure, bringing in talented students from places that universities might not ordinarily be able to reach. Additionally, delegating some recruitment to pathway providers also allows universities to focus their time and resources elsewhere.

These international students are those that have not yet achieved their academic potential, purely because of the overseas educational system that they have come from. Pathway programmes are precisely designed to transition them to achieve that potential in their degree study.  And it’s an especially fertile time for the recruitment of international students – the UK government recently reintroduced the two-year post-study work visa, which will boost the popularity of the UK as a study destination significantly.

“It’s an especially fertile time for the recruitment of international students”

Overall, pathway programmes provide universities with a steady supply of well-prepared international students in an arrangement which benefits the student, the university, and the economy at large.

Increasing trust in pathway providers

Perception of pathway providers continues to improve. At one time, some institutions had concerns over whether partnering with a pathway provider would lead to a drop in academic standards. However, pathway providers have increasingly demonstrated a highly respectable track record and continue to establish themselves as a meaningful part of the academic landscape.

Several prestigious universities, including members of the Russell Group, now collaborate with pathway providers. Study Group, for instance, has long-term partnerships with the University of Durham and the University of Sheffield.

Pathway providers are also gradually gaining recognition from the government. As stated earlier, the government has demonstrated that it is willing to provide Tier 4 visa benefits to students of reputable pathway providers. OfS status is now available to all pathway providers that meet the requirements, which finally brings parity between public and private institutions.

However, it’s worth noting that the OfS has recently led a clampdown on private institutions, and several institutions have been refused registration due to concerns over the quality of student outcomes. Private providers must rightly deliver high-quality teaching and be able to demonstrate positive student outcomes if they wish to have parity with public institutions.

However, there must be the recognition that alternative providers inevitably have different models which offer flexibility and choice to students but are not necessarily of any lesser quality just because they are different.

The future for pathways

The future of partnerships between universities and pathway providers is bright, with gradual acceptance finally reaching a tipping point. There is still progress to be made, but years of consistent, effective service on the part of pathway providers are finally garnering recognition.

Pathway programmes provide a pipeline of intelligent, capable students, a financial lifeline for universities and a host of cultural benefits on campus to domestic UK students and the institution as a whole. Through continued hard work and perseverance, we can expect further acceptance from universities, students and governments, and a positive future for higher education.

About the author: James Pitman is Managing Director for UK and Europe at Study Group