Although English language pathway programmes have become established and widely recognised in the major English-speaking countries, progression routes for international students into tertiary programmes in other languages have been less visible. However, with demand for higher education courses in German, French and Spanish growing, a related pathway sub-sector is burgeoning, creating partnership and commission potential for agents in countries where university tuition fees are often low or even non-existent.
Rather than the International Study Centre (ISC) model, the majority of non-English pathway programmes featured here have been developed by well-established language schools and therefore offer routes into a range of higher education partners.
An expansion of the pathway sector is evident across a number of European languages, but perhaps none more so than in Germany, which is the most popular non-English higher education destination for international students, according to OECD statistics, with a six per cent share of globally mobile students in 2012 (see STM, December 2014, page 6). Indeed, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) hopes to welcome some 350,000 international students by 2020.
“Germany has the advantage of a having a very high reputation and at the same time universities are free. So this attracts a huge amount of students,” says Nico Kögl at BWS Germanlingua. Eva Riemersma at F+U Academy of Languages, which partners with two universities of applied sciences, says that more general interest in German universities, language and culture is growing globally. “German universities are famous for their excellent reputation especially in technical and economic subjects, as well as medicine and natural sciences,” she adds.
Georg Tietze of GLS German Language School, agrees, “From our experience, the requests of students who want to start or continue with academic education has grown already.” He adds, “The lack of language knowledge is the main fact which stands between the applicant and university intake. Therefore, the demand for study preparation courses as well as exam preparation has increased a lot.”
Agents are very much part of the growth, as Judith Spinnler, Marketing Manager at Sprachcaffe, observes, “Thanks to the very low tuition fees in Germany we are seeing a stable increase in interest from both Asia and elsewhere for our pathway programme in Frankfurt. As agents start to educate students on the financial benefits of studying in a non-English speaking country, we are able to observe a steady increase in bookings.”
The English pathway model is not entirely transposable onto continental Europe, certainly within the public sector where some countries have a university entrance exam as a specific entry requirement.
Georg explains that generally to enter university, students require a high level of German and a sufficient school-leaving certificate or high school entrance qualification (HSEQ). If students don’t have sufficient HSEQ, they can sometimes undertake a Studienkolleg preparatory course, organised by the universities, which covers subject-specific content. “Because of the collaboration with some German universities, GLS is able to apply the applicants with the missing HSEQs and insufficient language knowledge to our partner universities. They issue a so-called ‘conditional acceptance’. This gives the student a guarantee for a study place at that university if the student fulfils all requirements.” Thus GLS’s offer, partnered with two universities of applied sciences (Jena and Zwickau) comprises language pathway, conditional acceptance and higher education consulting.
At BWS Germanlingua, Nico says, “We have an eight-week pathway course which can be started once you have reached a B2 level. After that, students need to go to a pre-university course for one year. At the end, there will be a final examination.” Entry is guaranteed, subject to passing the exam, and BWS partners with seven institutions.
Berlin International College (BIC) is a specialist pathway provider partnered with 16 highly regarded universities across the country, advises President, Dr Christian Berthold. BIC offers courses with or without the Studienkolleg and cooperates with the Technical University of Berlin in terms of programme coordination and quality standards, he says.
Looking at markets for German pathways, Nico states BWS has been focussing on South America, and cites potential in Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia. “It has to do with the economy but also with the fact that we put a lot of effort into these three countries and have good partners over there who promote us well.” Georg also confirms an increasing popularity of the German pathway in Latin America, as well as the Middle East, Africa and India, trends echoed at BIC, according to Christian. Meanwhile, Judith says Sprachcaffe has found success in the Asian markets, “The tightening of visa regulations in Germany has caused a decrease in student numbers from Bangladesh, which we have been able to compensate for through aggressive recruitment in Asia.”
Eva states that F+U’s main pathway markets are those countries whose high school diplomas are not accepted, mostly China, Vietnam, India, Russia, Ukraine and some MENA countries.
France is another major magnet for international students at higher education level, and as Eleri Maitland at French in Normandy (FIN) explains, the pathway model is far from new. “French in Normandy is extremely lucky to be the only private language school for French in Rouen and to have established partnerships with our local higher education institutions over a long period of time,” she says. “The first one dates from 1999. Rouen has an excellent educational offer that covers vocational as well as academic courses and FIN acts as a hub, allowing students to attain the required level of French before moving to one of our excellent partners.”
Cyril Marteaux at engineering school ESIGELEC, one of FIN’s six partners, says, “Our joint pathway programme with FIN is the result of a joint strategy and the combination of two excellent internationally renowned structures who share a commitment to quality, high expectations for students and the same attention to the excellence of service, care and attention given to each student far away from home.”
Eleri observes steady growth in the pathway sector. Certain vocational programmes, such as cuisine, are particular to France and a partnership with Institut National de la Boulangerie-Pâtisserie (INBP), where 15 per cent of students are international, has been successful, particularly in the Asian markets of Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan along with Russia. The engineering and academic pathways, meanwhile, have been more popular with China, Brazil and India.
Over in Montréal, Canada, ALI partners with six higher education institutions, explains Cesar Maschmann, Director of Sales and Marketing, and offers a complete path guiding students through assessment, preparation, consultation and application into university. “The reputation and quality of the partner institutions that we offer our students is one of our greatest attributes and why we have the mandate of sending them very well prepared and ready-for-college students.”
He adds, “Our graduates are on a par with any first-year university student, and that for us goes beyond a goal, because we constantly see the concrete results of their performance after they graduate.” The pathway programme has graduated almost 100 students in the last two years, says Cesar, and ALI hosted its first Higher Education Fair recently (see main picture).
In terms of trends, Cesar says that Quebec has been driving a campaign to attract immigration and French is a fundamental requirement to succeed in the process, something that has been a strong pull for students from South America, while Mexico, China, Saudi Arabia, Korea and Japan are other key markets.
Spanish stepping stones
Another destination actively courting international students at higher education level is Spain. “Spanish public universities are still amongst the most competitively priced in the world,” says Bob Burger at Malaca Instituto in Malaga.
Estudio Sampere offers a pathway programme in partnership with Centro De Estudios Mirasierra, with the former providing the language preparation for the mandatory Selectividad exam for university entrance in blocks of eight, 12 or 16 weeks, explains Sandro Humann, Head of Marketing. The school partners with several universities for progression and guides students through the application process.
Malaca has 40 years’ experience teaching Spanish and more than 10 of preparing students for the Selectividad, says Bob. Students study Spanish and then pathway subjects at the school with the same teachers and specialist science teachers.
He explains that the Selectividad is being phased out but hasn’t been replaced as yet, which has tempered demand. But when the new access model is confirmed and courses adjusted to it, interest should increase again. He confirms Russia, Korea, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Ukraine as key markets. Sandro, meanwhile, says, “We always have some Russian students every year, it’s a very important market, but there are also Middle East students and some from Africa.”
With governments keen to bolster international enrolments and knowledge of the high-quality but low-cost tertiary offerings and post-study work opportunities growing, both schools and agents (see box) observe growth and potential in the non-English pathway sector. Judith at Sprachcaffe concludes, “As university fees continue to increase across English-speaking countries, we are convinced that our European pathway programmes will continue to flourish.” firstname.lastname@example.org
Agents on non-English pathways
Always the weathervane of shifts in demand within the international education industry, a number of study travel agencies report growth in demand for some non-English pathway provision.
“We have always had requests for pathways in German, and in the recent two years we see an increase as it is becoming the second option for technological study degrees,” says Adeila Makashi at Ande-LM Agency in Albania. “Apart from English, the biggest demand we currently have is for the pathway programmes in Czech and German, says Marina Byakisheva at Allterra Education in Russia. “For us, both Czech and German pathways have grown about 15 per cent this year.”
Elsewhere, Ahmad Naraghi at Iran Australia Cultural & Art Institution confirms interest in German from the Iranian market. “The German sector is growing fast and has a lot of potential,” says Amir Ben Dov at Campus Studies, Worldwide Education in Israel, adding that the Italian market has been stable since the company’s foundation 32 years ago. Although demand at Creatur Viajes http://creaturviajes.com in Mexico is predominantly for English, Branch Manager Gabriela Díaz Martínez spots some demand for French pathways. Proving that the trend is not solely a Euro-centric phenomenon, Joseph Lee at Meridien Destination Management Corp. in Taiwan cites demand for Vietnamese and Korean university preparation.
For some other agencies that responded to our questions, there was minimal demand for non-English pathways, particularly for those from Switzerland and Brunei.
Adeila argues non-English provision should be explored by agents. “I do believe that all agencies should have a big ratio of programmes. English-speaking destinations shouldn’t be the only ones promoted, as there are other options with low fees, but different cities where students would love to study. The agency should be prepared to inform the students about these options, as they don’t know about them.”
While agents may have been historically wary of many of the free European education models due to the inherent lack of commission opportunities, the pathway sector provides a private sector payment opportunity. “The state universities are free and don’t offer commissions,” says Adeila. “Students want them as the cost is low, so you have to offer them. These pathways will allow you to still get paid on this service.” Indeed, Sergey Kuzmintsev, Deputy Director at Students International in Russia, states this is the only way to earn money on free education. He adds that if there are interesting non-English pathway courses with good progression rates, the number of students could be very good.
For Fernanda Viramontes at Mundo Joven Travel Shop in Argentina, demand will depend on the quality of partner universities, but adds, “If it is a free tuition university, then we can sell the pathway and get commission from it, and it’s a win-win for the agency and the student.”
The following agencies also contributed to the research of the article: HRD Services Global Education Link, Brunei; Interlangues, Switzerland; LinguaService, Switzerland.