Trend Reporting in International Education: WES Survey Results Can Mislead

by: Anthony O’Donnell and Aleksandar Popovski

In its recent report, “Not All International Students Are the Same: Understanding Segments, Mapping Behavior” (“the WES Report”), World Education Services (WES) proposes a model for segmenting international applicant pools based on a student’s financial resources and levels of academic preparedness.

The WES Report [covered here on The PIE News] is based on survey data taken from 1,600 international students during their application for credential evaluation, one of the services offered by WES.

Although 2,500 students started the survey, 36% “dropped out when asked about their experience with agents,” resulting in the 1,600 results used for the report.  The previous two sentences hint at three common statistical biases briefly acknowledged by WES in the section “Data Limitations.” These biases make most of the claims in the report statistically invalid.

The first limitation is sampling bias.  Ideally, we would like to use reports such as the WES Report to guide substantive policy decisions. To do so, the means of gathering data must conform to the basic statistical requirement of random sampling. If we perform random sampling, the data we collect should be representative of the population we want to study, and should not over-represent, under-represent, or distort the “real” population in question.

WES does not randomly draw from the population of international students; it draws from its own clients. With the data collected, we cannot answer questions about prospective international applicants in general but only answer questions about prospective international applicants who also use WES services.  We cannot make reliable statistical inferences about the overall population of international students based on this data.

Another data limitation is self selection bias, where some respondents are more likely to take the survey than others.  Since the survey was conducted in English, only students with a working knowledge of English could have taken it.  Hence, the group that volunteered for the survey is not representative of all potential students.

Students with low English proficiency may have been excluded from the analysis because they could not complete the survey on language grounds. Incidentally, these students would need the most help to navigate the complicated process for applying to a U.S. university, and are most likely to utilize agent services.

The third limitation is that of missing data. With missing data, WES’ claim that one-sixth of respondents used agents cannot be a reason to conclude that “the use of agents might not be as widespread as previously indicated”. As noted above, 36%, or 900 respondents, dropped out of the survey when asked about their experience with agents. WES notes that those students may have dropped out because they “perceived agent-related questions to be sensitive.”

The only way for missing data to not be an issue is if only one-sixth of the 900 that dropped had used an agent. However, it is possible that anywhere from 0 to 900 used agents. Of the 2,500 original respondents, from 10% to 46% could have used agents.  This, coupled with the possible omission of weak English speakers from the survey (self-selection bias), casts serious doubt on WES’ claim that agents are sparingly used by international students.

Having addressed the statistical issues in the WES Report, we turn to the claim that 62% of agent users “are not fully prepared to tackle the academic challenges of an (sic) U.S. education.” This claim is only valid under random sampling. Without random sampling, we cannot conclude that there are proportionately more academically prepared students among non-agent users than among agent users. Missing data compounds this problem, because of the 900 students who did not answer the survey there may have been a large proportion of highly-qualified agent users. Considering the many problems posed by statistical biases, we should discard this claim.

Finally, we should be cautious of any study that discusses academic preparedness from an a priori perspective. Whether a student is academically prepared to tackle the academic challenges of a U.S. education may be more a function of the admissions/academic standards of universities and less a function of the academic quality of students. What is a good student for some universities may not be a good student for others. Given that U.S. HEI’s form a wide spectrum of institutions from community colleges to big research centers, students may find a place at U.S. HEI’s with huge variations in academic preparedness.

WES presents an interesting strategy for international market analysis. However, given the statistical deficiencies with the survey, the conclusions drawn are of limited value for purposes of policy making in the area of international recruitment.

Aleksandar Popovski (popovski@binghamton.edu) is Assistant Dean of Admissions and Recruitment for the Graduate School at Binghamton University. Anthony O’Donnell (anthony.odonnell@binghamton.edu) is a graduate assistant and data analyst at Binghamton University.

What Study Abroad in the UK Did for Me

In 2004, while pursuing a degree in Texas, I took advantage of my school’s helpful and well-run study abroad office to take the chance to go to England.

I applied to the University of East Anglia, and was not only accepted but given a small scholarship, a stipend of 500 pounds, which made it much more possible for me to take this leap, and also set a positive tone that made me feel exceptionally welcome.

To subsidize all the travel, I decided to pursue summer employment in London before my fall semester began. I enrolled in an exchange program called BUNAC that sets American students up with British work visas (and vice-versa).

For the first couple of weeks, my employment situation was grim. My friend and roommate who had gone ahead of me “found a great deal on rent,” subletting from a Chinese grad student living in what turned out to be the garage of a council flat, though we didn’t know it until we took down a poster, revealing one wall to be a pair of outward-opening garage doors. No wonder it was so drafty.

Meanwhile, we were working for a rather shady catering company that hired other transient workers from around the globe – terrible work, but we made some good friends. Still, I wanted more. Being a writing major, I found the name of a publisher in the BUNAC directory that had offered internships before, got interviewed, got the job (due to my knowledge of Latin – probably the first hire on that basis since the Middle Ages) and set to work finding out-of-print titles for their new classics line.

Once fall came around, I packed up my bags again and took the train to Norwich. I studied creative writing there – UEA is a hallowed place for that subject in the UK, with alumni like Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro, and I eagerly soaked up the atmosphere of artistic seriousness, along with many a Snakebite.

Which is not to say I didn’t work hard academically during that semester; my grades were transferred back as pass/fail, but I got the equivalent of all As, meaning I probably took classes more seriously than necessary, if anything. My papers were extremely well-received by tutors and professors, and I came away with the impression that humanities education in the UK was both less demanding and more enriching than in the US – much more emphasis on simply taking your own time to read and write.

If I could do it over again I’d spend slightly less at the pub, and travel more within the British Isles rather than blowing my scholarship money on Ryanair jaunts to the continent, but I have no real regrets. The highlight of my whole experience was probably cooking a turkey dinner to introduce my British associates to the glories of an American Thanksgiving. Which goes to show: the benefits of international study even extend to those who stay home, and meet weird people like me from faraway lands.

Integrating with the people of a host country can be hard, even if, as in the case of my transatlantic adventure, you’re “divided by a common language.” I won’t lie: I was often homesick. The recent Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education shows the health and vibrancy of study abroad programs, but surveys have shown problems with integration that reinforce the importance of building these bonds. So for those of you engaged in this field: be active in encouraging social assimilation, and don’t let any of us fall through the cracks! I want everyone to have as great an experience as I did.

An experienced writer on all things related to higher education and business, Amanda Watson spends her days covering the latest stories on various topics such as online mba rankings, web entrepreneurship, and social media marketing. You can contact Amanda at watsonamanda.48@gmail.com.

 

“How my study abroad inspired my career path”

“Studying abroad was an opportunity that opened my eyes to the world around me. I had travelled around Europe before, but staying put and studying at a school like John Cabot in Rome not only allowed me to connect to the culture on a deeper level than ever before, but I really grow as a person from it.

My time at John Cabot allowed me to pursue my own individual interests and passions while rounding out my education as a whole. Spending a semester overseas forces a student to become an independent young adult; one that is responsible for budgeting, communicating with people who speak foreign languages and continue to develop themselves as an engaged citizen of the world. As this world we live in continues to shrink, study away experiences become ever-increasingly important, with lasting value not only to the students themselves, but also the international community in which we all live.

My semester in Rome was a time I’ll never forget, and it provided an opportunity for me to pursue my passions in international travel and which I have now transformed into my career path. This wonderful opportunity simply wouldn’t have been possible without my time abroad at JCU. Not having majored in business, launching Weekend Student Adventures has been a crash course in entrepreneurship and I’ve encountered endless hurdles along the way. But for the readers of this article interested in pursuing their own international passions, I have to say it’s been entirely worth every challenge, setback and frustration.

Now I feel blessed and fortunate to provide a deeper kind of traveling experience not attainable otherwise by students abroad in Europe. I rely on my lifelong friends and connections throughout the continent to open my students’ eyes to the rich and complex cultures of the people of Europe. Be sure to check out our line up of trips up on www.wsaeurope.com!”

Happy Travels!

Andy Steves
Andy@WSAEurope.com

Andy Steves graduated from Notre Dame in May, 2010 and has since capitalized on his semester abroad in Rome (Spring ’08) to start a student tour business in Europe, Weekend Student Adventures. Andy combined the experience of studying abroad and a lifetime of traveling with his father, Rick Steves to make WSA the leading student tour provider in Europe. Now hundreds of American students abroad in Europe enjoy his exciting trips each semester.

How can your students help you to enrol more students?

Who do you think is best equipped to talk about your classes and your school? You? Your staff? Not really…

So, who is the best person to talk about your school?

Your students are best equipped to talk about it, as they have a fresh look that you have lost and are at the heart of your activity.

They see, feel and take into account certain things that you no longer register about your culture, your country, your city, your neighbourhood, your school, its reputation, your staff, the content of the classes you provide, your equipment, the size of the classrooms, the number of students, your host families, your prices, the accommodation you provide, your activities, the atmosphere in your school, etc.

Your students connect prospective students to your school

Your students express themselves in their own words and are more likely to be listened to by other students.

They can use Facebook and Twitter better than anyone. During their stay, thanks to these social networks, they often create a bridge between your school and their friends and family back in their country.

Once they have returned home, they are the best ambassadors for your school as they have a large network of friends to which they can recommend you.

In fact, they are often so happy and proud to have had the opportunity to experience their first stay in a foreign country that they want to tell everyone about it and encourage others to do the same.

Numbers don’t lie

People want to learn from people like them when they make purchasing decisions.

–       92% of consumers around the world say they trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.

–       Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70% of global consumers surveyed.

Your students are talking – don’t just listen.

Encourage them to talk about and recommend your school by sharing their experience with others.

  • When they refer a friend, give them and their friend a discount.
  • Encourage them to blog about their experience during their stay at your school.
  • Ask them to “Like”, “Share” and “Tweet” your school on Facebook, Google + and Twitter.
  • Organize amazing activities and take great pictures of them that will then be published on Facebook and seen by all their friends.
  • Invite them to review your school on popular rating websites. These reviews will be read by prospective students looking to study abroad.

What if they have a negative experience?

99% of students are satisfied with their language study abroad, so don’t worry (unless you are running the worst language centre in the world!).

The reason for this high satisfaction level is that, unlike hotels and restaurant, students tend to spend a fair amount of time in your schools and therefore, if there are any issues, you will usually be able to detect and fix them during their stay.

This fear of negative feedback is one of the biggest factors causing some schools to hesitate to embrace customer-generated content. But the truth is that “bad” reviews are really just opportunities to improve your offer and build trust in your company.

Improving your offer

The most obvious positive potential in negative reviews is the opportunity for your school to improve its services. Student feedback helps language centres discover weaknesses in their offer and act on them to deliver a better experience.

Building trust in your brand

The mere presence of negative feedback on the web shows the transparency of your brand. Students see that your online community hasn’t been whitewashed with rose-tinted marketing speak.

Review your enrolment strategy and unleash the power of word of mouth marketing

Today, advertising and marketing are so omnipresent that they become more invisible. In the end, people tend to ignore advertising because they prefer to hear about the experiences of people like them through social media.

Good marketing should encourage the right sort of conversations and word of mouth should be the starting point for your enrolment strategy.

Maxime Braire is the founder of www.my-language-travel.com and the director of the Webmarketing Agency SKA.

International student recruitment & the power of agents

At the internationally active University of Nottingham in the UK, Vicenzo Raimo, Director of the International Office, shares his views:

“In an ever more competitive international student recruitment market, UK universities are increasingly relying on the use of student recruitment agents to meet targets. Not only are universities failing to appreciate the full costs of international student recruitment but some are also in danger of failing to meet ethical standards in their work overseas.

Despite the significant increase in international students coming to the UK in recent years I am concerned that as a result of increasing competition and the more difficult environment resulting from the UK government’s changes to visa requirements, recruitment agents have become too powerful and the balance of power between universities and agents has shifted increasingly towards agents.
Read More

Federal Recognition of AIRC – Reflections by Mitch Leventhal

“As someone who was there at the birth of the American International Recruitment Council, I want to share some reflections about the role of federal recognition of standards development organizations in the international student recruitment debate.

By the mid-1990s, globalization of higher education had resulted in an international student recruitment environment significantly different than what had evolved during the prior post-WWII period. A vast industry of international student recruitment agencies had emerged; an industry nurtured by America’s Anglophone competitors in higher education – in particular, the United Kingdom and Australia – which fueled their rapid growth in their higher education exports, while eroding American market share.

American competition for international students was hampered internally by a lack of consensus-based industry standards governing the field of agency-based recruitment.

Institutions had difficulty differentiating good operators from bad, were concerned both with their own reputational risk, and need to provide greater assurance that the interests of student were being protected.

American competition for international students was hampered internally by a lack of consensus-based industry standards

In addition, federal agencies appeared to be badly confused regarding the development of agency recruitment channels – with the State Department opposing the use of educational consultants for recruitment while the Commerce Department actively encouraged the same activity.

It was within this context that the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) was established by US accredited post-secondary institutions, led by several state research universities. The founders of AIRC noted an emerging body of federal legislation which encouraged the creation of industry-based, consensus standards organizations, and which required federal agencies to work with such bodies.

AIRC was modeled on US higher education accreditation, as a federally recognized consensus-based standards which would implement a stringent certification process capable of identifying good actors, and penalizing the bad.

All federal agencies should be aware of the legal standing that AIRC has achieved

The US Congress provided the impetus for the creation of the AIRC. The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 not only recognized the importance of consensus standards bodies to the national economy, but it also required the use of such standards by Federal agencies.

It also explicitly encouraged Federal agency representatives to participate in ongoing standards development activities. In a 1998 policy Circular, President Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget directed heads of executive departments and agencies “to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical.”

Immediately upon incorporating as a 501c3 in 2008, AIRC officially registered as a Standards Development Organization (SDO) with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. AIRC’s founding institutions invested in this consensus-based standards development effort with the full expectation that these efforts would be recognized by relevant federal agencies.

AIRC has fully observed the intent of the law and resulting policy. AIRC member institutions firmly believe that industry standards in the area of international student recruitment will provide a basis for better coordination among federal agencies and dramatically increase higher education exports, while providing greater protections for students.

International recruitment agencies which have successfully achieved AIRC certification did so with the expectation that AIRC standards and certification would be federally recognized. Investments have been made on the basis of this understanding.

Many of AIRC’s members have been disappointed that some US federal agencies have continued to issued ill-informed and misguided policy statements and directives which have directly undermined AIRC’s efforts while doing significant harm to the higher education industry.

All federal agencies should be aware of the legal standing that AIRC has achieved as an SDO, as well as their obligation to work with AIRC to ensure that consensus-based industry standards for international student recruitment are adopted as a means to strengthen US higher education exports, while providing enhanced consumer protections for students.”

Mitch Leventhal is Vice President at AIRC and Vice-Chancellor for Global Affairs at State University of New York, USA.

Online and Abroad: Getting the Most Out of Your Online Educational Experience

As youngster high school students, we create all kinds of images and expectations for our college experience. Whether it’s influenced by lofty books we’ve read, silly comedic movies we’ve see, or stories we’ve heard from friends and siblings, there are certain anticipations we have for our colligate experience. We envision late night study sessions, copious amounts of coffee, dorm rooms filled with Christmas lights and band posters, semesters abroad in Greece or Rome, inspiring professors, and early morning classes. These images aren’t necessarily wrong—but they are seemingly limited to the more “traditional” college experience. However, as online education gains in popularity among students, universities, and employers, the “traditional” student is no longer necessarily the only college student to consider.

While some staples of college learning are somewhat limited to “traditional” brick and mortar schools—dorm rooms, cold college classrooms, and campus dining halls—, online learning is becoming more and more mainstream in today’s society. Online students have all the same social and academic possibilities and opportunities that traditional students have. For the online students who has dreamt of taking a semester abroad during their collegiate years to explore new cultures and create new experiences, don’t count it out of the plan. Semesters abroad are also available for students who are completing degree programs online.

Just as online students take a new route for their educational experiences, studying abroad as an online student can look different as well. The whole point of “online learning” is that students can complete degree requirements and classes from a flexible location. Education is accessible from any location with reliable internet access. In this way, online learning abroad can be just that. If you are an online student and wish to take a “semester abroad”, you have the freedom to do so without conflicting with your educational pursuits. Of course, this is not what most students mean or envision when they think about studying abroad in college, but it is one option.

In a more traditional way, online students are also able to join official study abroad programs. Because online learning is relatively new, researching study abroad programs that are supported by your online institution may take slightly more research than a traditional student might encounter. Many online students choose the online route because they are not necessarily enticed by some of the frills and features of campus-based learning. However, this is not to say that some of the “frills” that college offers, such as study abroad opportunities, are not available to the online learner. Online students have access to the exact same study abroad opportunities that other students are allotted. Speak with your online institution’s admissions or student relations representative about the idea.

If you are an online student at an institution that has a physical location (as many online schools today do), finding study abroad opportunities should be fairly simple. Of course, it all depends on the school, but studying abroad has become such a commonplace among college students that most schools have study abroad coordinators to assist interested students. In this case, you can earn credits toward your degree while you study abroad through either online classes, traditional classes, or a mixture of the two. On the other hand, if the college you attend does not offer study abroad programs to their students, you can likely work out some alternative options. Many schools will allow students to participate in another college’s study abroad opportunity and then transfer those credits when the semester is complete. Situations like this will take some discussions with school representatives, but should not be ruled out.

Studying abroad can be an extremely rewarding and worthwhile experience for any student. Travel and new life experiences are important steps to take for any individual, but especially young adults struggling to find their purpose. Online students can particularly benefit from a study abroad experience both personally and from a professional standpoint. While online degrees have gained widespread acceptance among employers at an academic level, they can be looked down upon as an indication that the holder has minimal “real life” experience. This experience can show employers that you have hands-on experience in new and different situations and circumstances. Hands-on cultural experience alongside your online studies can make for a better rounded resume.

Author Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about many topics in education including online colleges and online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Ten great reasons to study in the UK

Carla Stanton, International Manager of UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), sets out her top 10 pointers on why the UK remains a great study destination:

ONE: British higher education and qualifications have an impressive international reputation, with students in the United Kingdom encouraged to develop their potential while enjoying a full social life.

TWO: It’s easy to research the right course for you by visiting the UCAS website. Everyone who goes to UCAS.com has access to the Course Search database containing details of around 38,000 courses from archaeology to zoology.

THREE: Students who register are guided, step-by-step, through the process and use the online application system, Apply. It’s not too late to apply this year – UCAS will still send applications to universities and colleges up until June 30.

FOUR: Studying in the UK will help you develop excellent language skills. The English language is of crucial importance in today’s global business arena. (Most UK universities offer language support to international students but institutions have their own criteria for the level of English that students need to master.)

FIVE: You’ll be in good company. The UK has a long history of welcoming international students to study in its universities and colleges. In Britain last year there were 1.8 million full-time undergraduate students in higher education, which included over 104,000 international students.

SIX: UK universities are inspected regularly to ensure that they uphold the high standards of teaching, learning and research set by the Government. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is the key body charged with maintaining these standards.

SEVEN: The cultural diversity of life in British higher education is unrivalled. From cosmopolitan cities like London, Cardiff, Belfast and Glasgow, to historic counties like Warwickshire and Yorkshire, the UK is a place of contrasts and culture, where ancient buildings sit alongside contemporary architecture.

EIGHT: Undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the UK tend to be shorter than in other countries which can help to keep the cost of tuition fees and living expenses down. Most undergraduate courses take three years to complete, although in Scotland it would be typically four years and postgraduate courses can be from one year upwards.

NINE: Typically, international students are allowed to work for up to 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during holidays. If you are from an EU country, there will be even more flexibility. Full details about the conditions for working are on the UK Border Agency website and also on the UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs) website.

TEN: EU students may be eligible for financial help with tuition fees, and possibly some extra help, depending on family circumstances. Find out here.

Last year over 110,000 people from outside the UK applied through UCAS to study in Britain. UCAS is the central body which has managed admissions to higher education in Britain for over 50 years. Carla Stanton is the International Manager of UCAS. 

Interview visa applicants and let them work

The idea of interviewing the candidates in the countries of their origin is good [to be introduced in Pakistan by UKBA]. This will help, although is not guaranteed, to assess the intentions of the students. The major incentive of interviewing the candidates back home is that the Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) would be able to assess the English language competency of students, especially in the event of many students producing fake IELTS or other SELT (Secured English Language Test) result.

One counter-argument could be that ECOs are not trained or qualified to assess somebody’s English competency. In response to this, I would like to say that even a non-native speaker of proficient English communicating with somebody can assess whether the person in front is able to speak English or not.

Therefore, one does not need a qualification to assess somebody’s English. Ideally, having trained personnel is excellent but not mandatory. If we talk about idealism, one must also be assessed in their English writing capability. Universities do include a section in their application forms which requires the candidate to summarise their profile, past experience and future ambitions. This must help in the assessment but should be taken as an additional step and not the only tool.

Proficiency in English language is vital if you are coming to study in an English-speaking country to study. Once these measures are implemented strictly, there is no harm in providing work opportunities to international students as work experience will help them to enhance their learning.

While on their course of study, students have to submit assignments based on their experiential curve. Work experience can help the students to implement what they have learnt at the workplace in their course work and vice versa. Work is coherent to their studies and international students must not be deprived of that.

Post-study work will help the international students to gain vital experience and apply what they have learnt. They will enrich themselves by learning work practices different from their home countries and will transport the experience back home.

Curtailing work experience and post-study work could be likened to depriving the students from gaining valuable experience which is an integral part of learning process.

What the government can do, in order to discourage the students from staying in UK permanently is to remove the post-study work visa from contributing towards the residency and permanent settlement.

These measures can ensure that only genuine students come to UK to study and work and leave the country after their purpose is achieved.

Murad Ali.

Murad Ali works as an Operations Manager for a private independent college in the UK.  He has been in this industry for five years and started as a lecturer. 

The rise of luxury student accommodation – at a price

An email notification just popped up on my screen from our Directors office. Subject: “Important – Please read”. It was a link to a Tripadvisor rating of a student accommodation and a scandalous, business-harming report on the standards of trading and accommodation offered.

The post was actually written by a new user but just the negativity of the report shone a dark light on the operations of said agency.

There is a plethora of options available to university and language students in terms of living in London – some of which will be as dire as described by the student rating their experience online. Others will be in a different league, as we know from experience.

Private landlords, estate agents, private residences, homestay (accommodation with families), house shares and university halls all have something to offer to suit any budget.

There is however a new deluxe standard of accommodation emerging in London – “luxury student halls”. The rise of this ultra-modern, ultra chic accommodation has caused the cost of studying in London to increase exponentially over the last few years. The introduction of foreign developers, investors and property management companies has allowed the industry to flourish and offer their wares in a competitive market.

I recently went to see a new building in Aldgate that is being built. For a weekly cost of £225.00 a student will get a bed, desk, bathroom and cupboard in an area that is a little bigger than the cells in Alcatraz. Not to say the quality is bad, but the price per square metre is definitely on the increase.

Prices for quality accommodation in London can go from £15,000.00 per year upwards, and with  university fees increasing, students might be facing a cost of over £20,000 per year for their education. Without support from the government to increase jobs and future employment potentials, I do not see many wanting to come out of university with a £60,000.00 debt! Will they end up choosing other UK cities or will the luxury accommodation providers be forced to lower their exorbitant rates? One this is for sure, agencies offering variety rather than single accommodation options will definitely benefit with superstar cross-sellers in their team!

Nikesh Ashar is Groups Coordinator for Britannia Student Services in the UK.