Category: Uncategorized

Making e-learning a force for social inclusion at a global level

“E-learning is different. It’s about creating tools that simultaneously engage the learner and challenge their ways of thinking”

Jeremy C Bradley is the Director of Academic and Student Affairs at InterActive, a global e-learning service provider. He has experience working in an educational hedge fund that provides scholarship and resource capacity to historically black colleges and universities; at an independent day school; and as Creative and Development Director for a multi-state educational and social services organisation.

‘We need to bring learning to people instead of people to learning.’ – Elliot Masie

Learning has never been so easily accessible and flexible as it is now. Thanks to online learning, today’s students, professionals and corporations enjoy a completely different relationship with education than the previous generation did less than two decades ago. But, certainly, there is a lot more to it.
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UCL and international branch campuses: the start of a global trend in the sector?

“It is hard to create such a uniquely British university experience outside of the UK. Taking advantage of successful institutions abroad and creating strong partnerships is perhaps the easier and more effective option”

Christopher Airey, managing director of Diversity Travel, a travel management firm which specialises in travel in the academic sector, writes about UCL’s recent announcement that it is closing two overseas branches, and explored whether this points to a wider industry trend.

Christopher Airey 2University College London recently announced it will be closing down its international branch campuses in Australia and Kazakhstan, and will be reviewing its operations in Qatar. Rather than trying to recreate a UCL overseas, the university is looking to forge connections with existing institutions already in their target locations. By the end of next year, UCL is hoping to establish three ‘anchor partners’ to take advantage of existing facilities and expertise.

Dame Nicola Brewer, UCL’s vice-provost for international projects told the Financial Times: “What we’ve concluded is that you simply can’t recreate the UCL experience… in a niche operation overseas.”

“What we’ve concluded is that you simply can’t recreate the UCL experience… in a niche operation overseas”

Brewer’s comments address the cultural constraints of creating an international branch campus where ‘British-ness’ is part of the product offering. However, as Brewer says, it is hard to create such a uniquely British university experience outside of the UK. Taking advantage of successful institutions abroad and creating strong partnerships to provide a British education in a local setting is perhaps the easier and more effective option.

But does UCL’s move suggest the start of a global trend in migration in the sector?

As a firm that specialises in arranging travel in the academic sector, we are always keen to follow how institutions are developing or looking to develop overseas. There are currently 44 UK branch campuses across the world, and according to The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, this figure is set to rise over the next five years.

According to the British Council, UK students too are now moving overseas. In a recent poll, the organisation found that more than a third of students they interviewed at undergraduate level were more interested in studying overseas, and in a similar study found that 28,640 students went abroad to study or take up an internship last year. Perhaps this is due to the bigger issues in UK higher education overall: the rise in fees.

With the significant rise in tuition fees through the last coalition government, it seems that students have started questioning the real value of their degrees. Students are becoming more acutely aware of university fees and are looking for alternative options through governments overseas. Some governments like Brazil currently offer EU students free access to higher education, providing an incentive to migrate.

“With the significant rise in tuition fees through the last coalition government, it seems that students have started questioning the real value of their degrees”

Studying abroad for the same degree they would attain in the UK could, in fact, become the added value students will come to demand from an academic institution.

Administrations in other regions are providing opportunities for UK institutions to take advantage of this. Governments in Southeast Asia are willing to finance establishments looking to build international branch campuses as part of their in-country global hub ambitions, and Gulf states too are hoping to grow branch campuses in the region.

While the latest figures suggest that UK students are migrating in favour of a more global experience, the UK is expected to be at the top of countries receiving inbound students – and the OBHE predicts that 28,000 additional foreign students will be attracted to the UK by a British education by 2020 with growing numbers coming from India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Malaysia.

While this is a great opportunity for the UK economy, could limited places on courses lead to missed opportunities for UK institutes? Could a better presence in other countries help institutions supply to any anticipated surge in demand?

Perhaps the future is a more international way of positioning courses for University students which can allow for flexibility. Hult International Business School, for example, now has a one-year MBA that allows students to rotate between Boston, Shanghai, London Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Dubai and New York. Similar opportunities are provided by Manchester Business School which boasts five campuses overseas.

“UCL’s closures of International Branch Campuses does hint to a change in direction for ‘internationalising’ higher education”

UCL’s closures of International Branch Campuses does hint to a change in direction for ‘internationalising’ higher education. In a recent survey conducted by EAIE earlier this year, it was revealed that opening branch campuses are now the lowest internationalisation priority for universities, suggesting the limited amount of courses offered makes them unsustainable.

However, in the same survey, respondents still saw the importance of internationalising higher education with the most important reasons being to improve the quality of education and to prepare students for a global world. Although UCL is closing international branch campuses, it seems to be exploring more effective ways to have a global presence.

In order to compete on a global scale, it is clear that institutions need to think about all opportunities for growth and providing a British education overseas, indeed, holds a wealth of opportunity.

Time to consider higher education during and after violent conflict

“Higher education is very rarely considered a key priority in post-conflict environments; investment in HE is commonly viewed as a luxury that war-torn societies can ill-afford”

Professor Sultan Barakat, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and Dr Sansom Milton, is research fellow at the University of York’s Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, write about the need to safeguard higher education in conflict regions.

The past two decades have witnessed many failed attempts to reconstruct nations in the aftermath of war. The litany of failures includes the squandering of vast resources in post-2003 Iraq and the inability to stabilise Afghanistan despite spending billions of dollars over more than a decade of intervention.

“War-torn societies have again and again been denied the opportunity to own the reconstruction process”

There are many reasons why this has been the case, but central to explaining this dismal record is the fact that war-torn societies have again and again been denied the opportunity to own the reconstruction process; to play a key role on the ground in terms of planning, designing, and implementing reconstruction policies, programs, and projects; and, most importantly, to hold national and international reconstruction actors to account.

A lack of capacity at all levels of these societies—including a shortage of appropriately qualified graduates combined with rapid deskilling (as a result of lost job opportunities) or displacement—has often provided the international community with an excuse for why the role of local actors in reconstruction is unavoidably limited.

While the skills and capacity gap is now widely acknowledged, conventional “neo-liberal” reconstruction policies—which are partly responsible for the poor record of reconstruction efforts—have not sufficiently realised the importance of higher education for redressing it. Preoccupied by issues of hard security and a multitude of short-term humanitarian challenges, higher education is very rarely considered a key priority in post-conflict environments; rather, investment in higher education is commonly viewed as a luxury that war-torn societies can ill-afford.

“For local societies to occupy the leadership role in the recovery process, a bold and transformative long-term approach to rebuilding is required—one that places HE at the centre of its agenda”

Years of study and experience have led us to conclude that for local societies to occupy the leadership role in the complex recovery process, as is necessary for its success, a bold and transformative long-term approach to rebuilding is required—one that places higher education at the centre of its agenda. Only by investing in domestic capacity building can nations meet the increased demands that emerge in the aftermath of war for skilled workers and advanced knowledge in a wide range of priority sectors for reconstruction and statebuilding, including health, engineering, education, law, and the economy.

In addition, higher education, when approached strategically, has the potential to bring divided societies together—despite their varied ethnic and religious backgrounds—to engage in critical inquiry on open and diverse campuses. Offering an avenue to constructively engage the critical age group of 18-25-year-olds is of particular value when it comes to dealing with the consequences of violent conflict in our times.

To ensure that higher education can begin to contribute towards recovery as discussed above, it is imperative that more is done to protect the sector—its scholars, students, and infrastructure—during and in the immediate aftermath of conflict. Sadly, over the past few years higher education has increasingly been caught in the crossfire of violent conflict. This trend is powerfully illustrated by the recent bombing of universities in Syria, Gaza, and Yemen; the shocking campaign of violence that claimed the lives of up to 1,000 Iraqi academics; and the tragic attack on Kenya’s Garissa University College in April 2015 in which 147 people were killed.

“It is imperative that more is done to protect the sector—its scholars, students, and infrastructure—during and in the immediate aftermath of conflict”

Effective protection is therefore vital to minimise the deleterious impact of conflict on higher education’s human, physical, and institutional resources. Some efforts have been made to protect institutions of higher education including increased physical security through checkpoints and blast-walls and enhanced policing of campuses, while international efforts have focused on rescue schemes that protect displaced and threatened scholars and students. Various global actors have also committed to protecting schools and universities from attack, including as outlined in the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict and the Principles of State Responsibility to Protect Higher Education from Attack.

Protection of higher education is preferable to costly rebuilding efforts that can take a generation to complete. Yet for many societies picking up the pieces in the aftermath of war, rebuilding higher education is a necessity.

In the case of post-invasion Iraq the higher education system was shattered—84% of universities were burned, looted, or destroyed. In extreme examples including Afghanistan and Somalia, entire higher education systems have been brought to the brink of total collapse due to protracted conflict.

“In extreme examples including Afghanistan and Somalia, entire higher education systems have been brought to the brink of total collapse due to protracted conflict”

Higher education systems are complex, multi-faceted institutions that require significant financial and technical resources, even in comparison to national primary and secondary education systems. Rebuilding and revitalising higher education in the aftermath of war is therefore a major challenge that requires a collective effort between a range of national, regional, and international educational actors.

There is a pressing need for creative thinking on how best to respond to the challenges higher education faces in conflict-affected countries and how to harness the capacity of the global sector so it can contribute toward recovery and transition

The aftermath of crises and conflicts can bring about an opportunity to reform and realise improvements during rebuilding, rather than merely restoring flawed social and economic systems. The starting point for such recovery must be a better understanding of the remarkable resilience demonstrated by academic communities throughout conflict.

The need to protect and rebuild higher education was the focus of a meeting in York in the UK jointly hosted by the Brookings Doha Center, the Institute of International Education, and the University of York this month, where leaders from across the world signed the York Accord. Under the Chairmanship of President Jorge Sampaio, participants will engage in a dialogue over how best to protect and rebuild higher education in conflict zones and how to enshrine that critical goal as a collective global responsibility. Read more about the Accord here.

The authors address the protection and rebuilding of higher education at greater length in a recent policy briefing published by the Brookings Doha Center.

In the classroom or cultural immersion: the best way to learn a language

Helen Wallis writes about different learning styles and offers some guidance on how students can be encouraged to immerse themselves in a new language.

As a language teacher I have had many people pass through my classroom door. Some are just taking their first tentative steps towards learning a language; some are brushing up on their rusty grammar; while others want to take their existing skills to a previously unreached level of fluency.

Although there are now many ways to learn a language including private lessons, online courses and mobile apps, I have found for my own students that the fastest way to fluency is through immersing themselves in the local culture. Being able to send students abroad to live with a native speaking family allows the learning process to move much more quickly, especially if they are able to attend lessons at a local language school.

The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, because they will be speaking the language every day their ability to converse will improve vastly. Out of necessity students will quickly learn how to ask for things, request directions and they will learn to function in society using their newly acquired language. Furthermore, everyday conversation will help to widen the students’ vocabulary considerably.

Secondly, the time in the classroom at a language school will provide students with more structure and importantly it will teach them the rules of grammar. It will also give exposure to the written form of the language they are hearing and speaking every day. It is all very well knowing how to speak a language but to become fluent it is also necessary to learn how to read and write in that language.

The problem that most teachers will have is persuading students to travel abroad to study and not just to go on holiday. However, I find that this is mostly due to a lack of confidence. So the easiest way to get students to undertake study whilst abroad is to inspire confidence through continual praise and recognition of improvement.

There are some additional steps towards language fluency I have found particularly helpful in creating confidence in my own students:

  • Suggest that they should watch television and films in their chosen second language. Being able to apply context will aid learning and allow them to hear the language whilst also being given a visual accompaniment, which will help the meaning fall into place. Watching television is something that people tend to do most days, and can be used as a tool to help with learning and increase exposure to the new language.
  • Ask students to change the language on their mobile phone, tablet or even laptop. This is a method which is becoming increasingly useful as people spend more of their time on the internet and social media. Having to navigate the familiar device in a different language will allow the student to widen their vocabulary, and then apply it to speaking and listening.
  • Students of all levels should be encouraged to read books in their chosen language. Beginners should not be embarrassed to choose books aimed at children; picture books, comics and magazines can be particularly helpful as the images help with the meaning of the text. It can also be quite fun and will quickly build confidence as their vocabulary grows.

When students travel abroad, encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone. Even though this may be especially hard whilst in in a foreign country, it will ensure that they are maximising the time that they spend speaking and listening to a language. Ask students to take up every invitation that comes their way, whether it is attending social gatherings or being the one to speak to staff in a restaurant. Make sure to tell students not to be embarrassed by making mistakes as locals will be extremely appreciative that they are making the effort.

A few years ago I taught a lady who came for her first few lessons before going abroad for work for three months. Before leaving she was just starting out on her journey to learn the language, but, by the time she returned I could hardly believe the improvement in her fluency. Spending three months immersed in the language and the culture of the country she was visiting had allowed for huge improvements to be made.

Medical English: understanding, intonation and being the bearer of bad news

“The true test of a doctor’s communication skills has to be the delivery of bad news”

In the UK’s recent general election, the National Health Service was a keenly debated issue – in particular, the trend for overseas doctors working in the UK and their language ability. In this blog, cross-posted from The London School of English‘s blog, Ros Wright, who delivered the school’s new English for Medical Professionals course to a group of doctors in the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, writes about the course and the importance of teaching tailored communication skills.

Greeting my trainees at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham with the local colloquialism – ‘Hey-up me duck!’ – I was not entirely surprised by the sea of blank faces. However, as a Nottingham lass myself, I felt duty bound to ensure that each and every one of these new NHS recruits were at least able to respond with a ‘Hi, how are you?’ by the end of the session.

Awareness of patient language (colloquial language, common expressions for medical conditions, etc.) is just one aspect of the new Medical English course – English for Medical Professionals piloted recently as part of a joint partnership with Remedium, specialists in the recruitment of overseas doctors for the NHS. The aim of EMP is to prepare qualified overseas doctors to function effectively in an English-speaking environment.

“Although highly skilled with a minimum of IELTS 7.5, of this group of Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Nigerian and Turkish doctors, fewer than half had followed medical communications courses in their own language”

Although highly skilled with a minimum of IELTS 7.5, of this group of Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Nigerian and Turkish doctors, fewer than half had followed medical communications courses in their own language; a situation that is not uncommon. Aside from an understanding of the local culture, other areas critical for effective doctor-patient communication include pronunciation (particularly word stress) and intonation, as well as an appreciation of the professional culture of the NHS which may differ significantly from their own experience. This two-day pilot course would feature an introduction to the NHS and the development of key skills in English, such as breaking bad news and participating in handovers.

The true test of a doctor’s communication skills has to be the delivery of bad news; a complex task often carried out several times a week. If delivered poorly, the experience remains with the patient long after the initial shock of the news itself. This is further compounded if the doctor needs to do so in a language that is not their own.

Beginning from the premise that ‘Bad news is any information, which adversely and seriously affects an individual’s view of his or her future’ (Baile et al, 2000), Day 2 focused on use of the SPIKES communication model for breaking bad news adapted for the medical English classroom. Trainees spent the morning developing language to: Set the scene, determine the patient’s Perception of their situation, deliver the preferred amount of Information, and Knowledge, while providing Empathy and finally laying out a Strategy for the future. The morning ended with a series of role-plays enabling the trainees to put their enhanced skills into practice.

While sharing a platform with the Medical Director of the QMC was a major coup during the pilot course, the icing on the cake was by far this quote from one of the trainees: ‘This is an excellent course, filling a void with regards to the introduction of overseas doctors to the NHS. The course has the potential to expand, develop and become a staple in trusts across the UK.” Indeed, it is hoped the pilot will result in the adoption of EMP as part of the induction programme for all overseas doctors recruited to work in the Nottingham University Hospitals Trust.

In the meantime, Nottingham’s popular greeting, Hey-up me Doc … sorry … duck, has since been made famous by the likes of Dolly Parton and Angelina Jolie. If you don’t believe me, google it!

Read more about the English for Medical Professionals course on The PIE News.

‘Australia does it better than most’: leading the way in marketing and recruitment

“A strategic focus on international enrolments is critical if countries want to stay competitive in the international student market”

Denis Whelan, APAC vice president of sales at international education resources, services and technology company Hobsons shares his thoughts on why he believes Australian institutions are so successful attracting students from overseas in comparison to the US, in light of Hobsons’ most recent report.

International students are savvy consumers, looking for the best return on what is often a significant financial investment. While an international education provides the opportunity to become a truly global citizen – building strong networks and leadership skills across borders – what students really want is tangible outcomes from their international degree.

When it comes down to it, the most important factor for international students is being able to get a job upon graduation or continue to advance their academic journey.

Hobsons’ latest research report, The ‘Return on Investment’ of an International Degree: A Survey of Prospective International Students to the USA, reveals that more than half of all international students rate getting a job as the most important factor for a university degree.

When it comes to attracting and converting overseas potential students, Australia does it better than most, leading the way in best-practice international education marketing and recruitment.

“This visa arrangement gives Australian universities a major competitive advantage over competitors like the US and Canada”

Currently in Australia, a post-study work visa gives bachelor degree graduates a two-year visa to stay and work in the country. This visa arrangement gives Australian universities a major competitive advantage over competitors like the United States and Canada.

Australia also provides the opportunity for students to work part-time while studying, which assists with living expenses while also giving them the opportunity to gain professional experience.

When it comes to choosing a university, prospective international students look for quality of education that will guarantee them a job at the end of their study. Universities that can demonstrate strong graduate employment outcomes are highly sought after.

In this respect, while the United States can boast some of the world’s top universities for teaching and research, it struggles to demonstrate solid job opportunities for graduates.

“Students considering studying in the United States are less optimistic about the employment options an overseas degree will provide than students considering Australia”

Hobsons’ research found students considering studying in the United States are less optimistic about the employment options an overseas degree will provide than students considering Australia.

Demonstrating direct pathways to employment after graduation has been an area where rival markets, such as Australia, have consistently outperformed the United States.

A strategic focus on international enrolments is critical if countries want to stay competitive in the international student market. Ultimately, this comes down to understanding what students want from an international education – as well as the factors that make them choose not to study in a particular destination – and marketing themselves accordingly.

There is no doubt, understanding students’ definition of return on investment is the key competitive advantage every university needs, regardless of where it is located.

Fraud: a growing problem in education, and how to guard against it

“UK universities and colleges are in an uncomfortable position at the immigration front line. Due diligence has to be completed to demonstrate to the Home Office auditors that robust systems are in place”

As institutions work to tackle the problem fraud in student applications, Steve Miller of UK NARICthe designated national agency responsible for providing information, advice and expert opinion on qualifications worldwide, shares some pointers on how to spot fake documents.

This certificate was submitted to UK NARIC. Is it real, or a fake? Applying the simple checks given provides the answer. Some fake certificates are easy to detect, others are more difficult.
This certificate was submitted to UK NARIC. Is it real, or a fake? Applying the simple checks given provides the answer. Some fake certificates are easy to detect, others are more difficult.

‘I didn’t know fraud was so common, so widespread’ – that’s the comment UK NARIC hears again and again from the university and college staff who attend its fraud workshops and seminars.

UK NARIC has been running its fraud training for over eight years – so we have trained a lot of staff from HE institutions. And in that time, we have had to develop the training year-on-year, because fraud has definitely become more common, and the fraudulent techniques adopted have become more elaborate.

The rise in numbers of international applications has increased the challenge for admissions staff – there are more applications to be sifted and checked, and from a greater variety of places, so staff have to learn and become familiar with an ever-wider array of qualification certificates and ID documents.

“Staff have to learn and become familiar with an ever-wider array of qualification certificates and ID documents”

UK universities and colleges are in an uncomfortable position at the immigration front line. Due diligence on applications has to be completed, and the evidence and audit trails all have to be there, to justify decisions taken and to demonstrate to the Home Office auditors that robust systems are in place.

Establishing with certainty the identity of an applicant is first base. Fake ID documents are a growing problem, but so too are genuine documents obtained illegally. Check across all documents supplied looking for discrepancies in the name and in age/date of birth. Any changes in name, eg due to marriage, should of course be supported by the necessary further documents – marriage certificates etc.

Be aware that there is a growing trade in fake EU passports – a popular choice as these give entry to any EU country without a visa. You will need to learn passport security features and check that documents have all of these. Some inexpensive equipment will help – most security features can be checked with a magnifying glass and a black light (UV-A lamp).

“Be aware that there is a growing trade in fake EU passports – a popular choice as these give entry to any EU country without a visa”

Social media can be a useful help to you. Check on a person’s ‘web imprint’. Do their Facebook posts match their claimed age and educational history? Do locations match – during their claimed years of study, have they been posting online from the university town you would expect? Facebook and other social media image uploads can also help with checking passport photos.

When it comes to qualifications, the first challenge is to check that the issuing institution is fully recognised. With such high numbers of applications coming from India and China, you may well encounter certificates from an unrecognised institution – there are many of them in these huge countries. Those of you who are subscriber members of UK NARIC will know that you can access full listings of recognised institutions in each country using our online data banks.

The next stage is to check if the certificate is genuine. If you are receiving a good number of international applications, you can and should build a library of certificates over time, to act as a live reference base against which incoming certificates can be compared.

Check certificates for all the obvious things first – all spelling should be correct; check all alignment – are type and graphics all properly centred and is everything straight? Check that dates are rendered correctly and that they make sense in terms of the qualification.

A more advanced level of checking would be to examine the signatures on the degree certificate – not only that the signature matches the genuine signature for the person named, but also that the Vice Chancellor or Principal named is correct in terms of the date of issue of the document.

“Print quality is not always a good guide to genuineness”

Print quality is not always a good guide to genuineness. Some recognised and well-established institutions in developing countries issue degree certificates that are not especially ‘well printed’. But type and graphical alignment will still be accurate.

UK NARIC would always advise that you do not rely on the degree certificate alone, but that you also obtain a transcript. This gives you further information to check against – module marks can be checked against the final degree classification; award titles should tally; course duration can be checked against the standards and norms for the country. If you cannot obtain a transcript from the applicant then you can request one direct from the institution.

A good general knowledge of countries’ education systems is a useful asset for anyone doing these sorts of checks.

UK NARIC offers advice and support to universities and colleges in all these areas – visit www.naric.org.uk to find out more.

Beckie Smith is senior reporter at The PIE News and manages The PIE Blog. To get in touch, email beckie[@]thepienews.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combating fraud in international education

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

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

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

Beckie Smith is senior reporter at The PIE News and manages The PIE Blog. To get in touch, email beckie[@]thepienews.com.

EUK responds to Swiss currency crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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