July 2010 issue

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All in the preparation

Demand for tertiary education overseas is big business – and so are the programmes that prepare students for this transition. Gillian Evans reports.

While the main ingredient to success in studying in a different country is language fluency, a good dollop of study skills and a sprinkling of cultural awareness are vital in the smooth transition to a different education system. As Rob Hayes, Regional Market Development Manager at Cambridge Education Group (CEG) in the UK, says, a good academic pathway course can provide students with “a softer landing [into their host country] before starting their main degree courses”.

The content of academic preparation and foundation courses varies widely. Some include Ielts or Toefl preparation, academic skills, and attending lectures and tutorials, and can be a substitute for the final year of high school, or even count towards a student’s chosen degree programme. Academic preparation and foundation course providers are constantly honing their course content to ensure they meet the ever-shifting demands of international students. Joel Weaver, Director of the Hawaii English Language Program (HELP) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the USA, recounts, “Several years ago we moved from an explicitly skills-based approach to a content-based approach with a skills flavour.” The course now includes academic listening/speaking, reading and writing. Weaver explains, “We found that introducing the content of university courses assisted us in our mission of acting as a preparatory pathway for success in the University of Hawaii system and elsewhere.”

Some programmes include even more components to prepare students for university and college life. For example, at St George International (SGI) in the UK, the foundation course content includes general English and academic English language development, and four modules of subject-specific content such as Life in Britain, covering British social and cultural topics, business studies, economics and politics. Similar to HELP at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, SGI has revamped its academic programmes to focus more on tertiary study preparation. “The foundation course has completely changed over the last four years to focus more on university study skills and assessment, to ensure it is relevant and up-to-date,” states Josh Round, Director of Studies. “We have benefited from some valuable help [and] guidance from Oxford Brookes University in developing these changes,” he adds.

Increasing numbers of academic pathway courses are weaving language tuition and study skills with modules in academic subjects. CEG in the UK offers a broad portfolio of academic courses including a university foundation programme – which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – at CATS Cambridge and CATS Canterbury. Five main pathways are offered; business, economics, finance and management; humanities, law and social sciences; engineering and sciences; life sciences; and media arts, with each pathway offering three or four main academic subjects that are studied together with English. “Students who successfully complete this programme with the necessary Ielts score are guaranteed a place at one of our partner universities, with many entering Top 20 ranked universities each year,” says Hayes.

There are also preparation courses for postgraduate studies. As well as its International Foundation Year programme for students intending to go on to take a bachelor’s degree at university, NCC Education in the UK, kicked off this year with the launch of its pre-master’s programme. According to NCC Education Marketing Executive, Samantha Jones, the programme enables students to upgrade their English language ability to a level suitable for master’s entrance, while also introducing them to studying business or IT subjects through the medium of English.

Into University Partnerships in the UK, offers a comprehensive menu of programmes for students intending to study in another country, including postgraduate preparation programmes. “We pride ourselves on being able to provide pre-university courses, not just in popular subjects such as business and finance/accounting, but also in diverse areas like environmental sciences, creative media, aeronautical engineering, architecture, law and journalism, that meet the needs of a wider range of students,” says Stephen Healy, Into’s Director of Strategy and Development.

Into is one of a growing number of organisations that is working in partnership with universities to create services for international students on campus. “Each Into partnership is a 50/50 joint venture, with the university retaining control over the quality of the academic experience while ensuring high quality and consistent support services for students,” explains Healy. So far Into has established 10 joint ventures in the UK and USA since 2006, and is aiming to set up another 30 joint ventures in the next 10 years in the USA, UK, Asia and the Middle East.

Another organisation that works with universities is CEG. Its FoundationCampus business now has centres at three UK universities which run courses based on those available at its CATS centres. “In order to ensure our programmes fully prepare students for their degree programmes, our team work closely with the university faculty staff, and regularly review the content of the foundation and pre-master’s courses and adjust as required,” says Hayes.

Kaplan International Colleges (KIC) in the UK also offers both university-campus-based programmes and centre based courses. Like Hayes, Linda Cowan, Managing Director at KIC, says, “We work very closely with our partner universities to ensure that our students receive the best possible preparation for their degree programme and for university life in their chosen destination.”

Apart from having the support of experts in their field, there are other advantages to learning on campus, says George Calderaro at the School of Continuing Education at Columbia University in New York in the USA. He says that students can easily get acclimatised to life on campus during their pathway programme, while at the same time having access to the university’s facilities, including the libraries, language laboratory, computers, and gym.

But there is of course a flipside, with private off-campus academic pathway providers having other advantages. Round at SGI asserts, “Both [our] courses are run at our London centre (not a campus); the advantages for students are that we offer small class sizes, and very close support, individual attention, mentoring [and] pastoral care.” Hayes suggests that off-campus programmes may also suit students who may not be sure what degree they would like to pursue and at which university.

Several centres now guarantee a university place upon successful completion of a foundation programme, which is appealing to many students. Weaver at the University of Hawaii relates, “We recently instituted conditional admission for graduate studies in addition to undergraduate studies. We believe that this will serve to enhance our attractiveness for many who may want access to one of the fine graduate programmes of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.” 

At Niagara College in Canada, students who graduate from its advanced level with a score of over 70 per cent, are directly admitted into their academic programmes without having to take official exams such as Toefl or Ielts. “[This] makes the transition from English classes to academia in both visa and academic terms quite painless,” explains David Atherton, Chair of ESL studies at the college.

Offering one- and two-year college and university preparation courses called pre-health sciences, pre-media, and general arts & science pre-university, Atherton notes that while they do not include specific language tuition, they “act as a perfect bridge programme; it provides the student with the necessary tools that lead naturally into other academic programmes”.

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The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





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English Australia  
MEI Ireland  

Alphe Conferences  

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Dr. Walter GmbH  

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Malta Tourism

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Carrick Institute
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Global Village 
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Prime Education
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Spinnaker College  
St Clare's Oxford  
St Giles Colleges 
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Study Group 
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