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How to Create New Academic Routes to Your University

G. John Cole 13/11/17 06:00

International Education Week falls between 13-17 November this year, with the emphasis firmly on International. It’s a chance to investigate the advantages and opportunities of working with “future leaders from abroad,” in particular through preparatory courses that bring in international students and enable them to develop the academic and cultural knowledge that can bridge their route to full degree programs.

When recruiters think about the type of international student they expect to attract to their institution, the image of the regular undergraduate looking to study abroad towards a classic degree is what comes to mind.

Yet this is just one direction that potential students follow. Marketing departments can reach whole new groups of students by creating diverse and adaptable new academic routes to their universities.

Every region teaches subjects to different standards, with different emphases, and with different means of assessment.  Foundation programs and preparatory courses have become a popular means for students whose educational backgrounds don’t precisely match the requirements of a foreign education system to ‘make the grade’ in both a formal and informal sense of the phrase. This can mean topping up core qualifications or looking deeper into complementary subjects (including language and study skills) to smooth the transition from one system and culture to another.

The global tuition revenues for this type of program swelled to an estimated US$825 million by early 2016, a near-17% year-on-year rise, with the great majority of the 1400+ international foundation courses leading to English-taught undergraduate degrees. Private sector providers, like INTO London and Navitas, are well established and working to bring qualified students to their partners. And universities that work independently to develop preparatory programs will recognize that just as valuable as the financial boost is the direct access to a pool of engaged candidates for their graduate programs proper. Participation in a foundation program is a favorable watermark for linguistic, academic, and motivational readiness for study abroad.

This kind of preparatory course can be a useful form of marketing itself. But what sort of advantages should institutions be communicating to the students themselves?

For a start, students too want to feel confident that they have the language and study skills to succeed abroad. It can also offer them a great taster of the university, the town, and the process of studying internationally – a big deal, since choosing to do so will likely be the biggest decision in a student’s life to date. Reducing the initial commitment while strengthening long-term prospects of success sounds like a pretty good idea for most young students. Get the offer and the delivery right, and an institution can expect to build a long and fruitful relationship with a student based on that foundation experience.

It is also an excellent opportunity to reach out to students who might otherwise not have considered international study. Foreign students may regard as impossible the idea of learning in an unfamiliar language and academic environment: in effect, foundation courses are an opportunity to ‘train up' increased numbers of potential recruits to graduate programs. Others may be still at high school and just not aware of such opportunities. Institutions can make an impact on these hard-to-reach groups by partnering up with third-party specialists, who have a multilingual approach and a great deal of data-based and experiential knowledge in reaching these categories of students – and adapting to demographic variations among foreign markets.

Preparatory courses such as these are about answering the needs of students and universities alike. Identifying those needs and the most appropriate and forward-thinking ways of meeting them is the first step in opening up a whole new market in international student recruitment.