Posted on 19 Mar 2015 at 15:55 by Vicky Lewis
Public-private partnerships are becoming much more prominent within the UK HE landscape as a way to help institutions achieve their international ambitions.
Traditionally, these have been focused on international student pathways to HE (often based on the university campus itself) as a centrepiece of the relationship – sometimes with an associated injection of capital for residential and teaching accommodation, sometimes without. This focus is entirely consistent with an era when the ‘easiest win’ (and the primary focus of many HEI international strategies) was represented by recruitment of additional non-EU students onto the university’s UK campus-based courses.
The established pathway providers (INTO, Kaplan, Navitas, Study Group and CEG) are often badged as the ‘big five’ (see THE article The Rise of the Route Masters, 20 March 2014). The years from 2007 to 2013 are described (by INTO’s Colin) as ‘something of a land grab’ by pathway providers in the UK. In addition to the standard International Foundation Year and Pre-Masters, most of them started to offer programmes equivalent to the first year of a degree, allowing direct entry to year two.
There has been some debate about whether the UK has now reached saturation point in terms of pathway programmes. At the very least it can be described as a mature market.
Recent UK government constraints on (and rhetoric about) non-EU student immigration are generating additional challenges for recruitment to UK-based programmes. And they have made private providers particularly jittery.
In a Tweet from the December 2014 OBHE conference on Public-Private Partnerships, Paul Greatrix (Registrar at University of Nottingham) summarised private providers’ response as follows:
Response to the UK visa challenges is to find other pathways, other countries to work in, diversify business models, de-risk. #obheppp
This Tweet provides a useful framework for exploring what’s currently going on (thanks Paul).
Whilst there is still rising global demand for an international education, forecasts in the September 2013 Horizon Scanning report (pdf link) indicate that this will increasingly be accessed in countries closer to home, with the number of host nations set to expand.
Public-private partnerships for transnational education offer UK (and other exporting nations’) universities a cost-effective opportunity to build a presence in key markets. In some cases an in-country pathway will prepare students to transfer to the UK (for a shorter period of time) to complete their degree; in some it may lead to a wholly in-country delivered degree.
According to The PIE News, trends to watch in 2015 include an increase in public-private partnerships which will particularly benefit emerging markets with shortages of government backing:
PPPs might cover establishing new branch campuses, new collaborative programmes (blended or in situ) or building marketing channels and/or separate pathway provision to help global recruitment efforts.
Other countries to work in
The ‘land grab’ in the UK which took place between 2007 and 2013 has shifted firmly to the US (with a few providers also eyeing up continental Europe).
The decision by the US National Association of College Admission Counselling (NACAC) in 2013 to allow use of agents for international student recruitment cleared the way for active engagement with pathway providers by US institutions. In December 2014, The PIE News described a ‘fertile ground for an imminent boom in pathway providers working in tandem with universities to promote studying in the US’.
A June 2014 THE article cites analysis by OC&C consultants which notes that less than 3% of US institutions use foundation course providers, yet nearly one in five US universities (and two in five regional universities) had a ‘strong interest’ in establishing a pathway programme (with a further quarter expressing ‘some interest’). It was predicted that the number of students enrolled via pathway programmes could grow by 10,000 in the medium term.
The attention of the ‘big five’ providers certainly seems to have been captured, with most of their recent partnership signings taking place with US institutions.
Other business models
This new context is spawning a new type of private sector partnership model. One that offers a more flexible and more comprehensive approach to working with the partner HEI in support of any areas of its international strategy (and – now that there is no longer a cap on numbers – potentially even its domestic / EU student recruitment strategy) where access to external capacity, expertise, networks and capital would be advantageous.
Although the joint venture business school proposed in 2014 by INTO and University of Gloucester didn’t come to fruition, INTO has been announced as Newcastle University’s partner for its new London campus.
Meanwhile, US-based Shorelight Education has entered the UK fray with its ‘white label’ provider concept, heavyweight financial backing and a partnership with Bath Spa University to develop a (US-style) School of Business and Entrepreneurship.
How does this affect UK HEIs?
We’ve looked at how the private pathway providers have responded to changes in the external environment, but how does this affect UK HEIs?
The attention of the ‘big five’ providers seems to be on developing more comprehensive relationships with existing UK partners (or new partnerships in other countries), rather than expanding their UK partner base.
Those HEIs that don’t yet have an on-campus pathway college (but would like to set one up) are finding it increasingly challenging to secure a partnership with one of the established providers – unless they belong to the Russell Group or are highly ranked.
However, there is a new wave of expansion into the pathway arena by operators that have traditionally focused more on English language and younger learners, including Oxford International and Eurocentres. Their pathway provision is normally off-campus and is attracting growing numbers of HEI partners.
Then there is a new 'invitation only' collaboration between seven high-ranking UK HEIs that run their own in-house pathway programmes, called the University Pathway Alliance. The context for its creation is clearly stated on its website:
Recent governmental changes, affecting higher education in the UK, and other developments in the international education sector have clarified the need for a strategic alliance representing international pathway programmes which are designed, owned and delivered by UK universities.
Finally, it will be interesting to see if Shorelight Education becomes a major player in the UK – and if others adopt its model. It has set itself up as offering a more comprehensive strategic partnership for internationalisation (one in which UK-based pathway colleges play only a modest role) for ambitious HEIs prepared to do things differently.
The exact contours of the new landscape for HE pathways and public-private partnerships are not clear yet but changes are certainly well underway.
If you would like to explore where your institution’s internationalisation ambitions fit into this new landscape, do get in touch to arrange an initial (free of charge) telephone consultation.