As international provider Study Group turns 20 in 2015, Global CEO David Leigh reflects on how the international education sector has evolved.

A growing industry

The last few decades witnessed significant fluctuations in the international education sector as it grew from around 500,000 international students in 1975 to over 1.5 million students in the early 1990s. The trend plateaued around this time as international students found it increasingly difficult to study abroad with programme constraints, regulatory changes and disparity between different academic systems. As more than 4.5 million students now leave their home countries every year, and as our organisation turns 20, I’ve been reflecting on the evolution of the sector.

One of the most significant changes is the ease with which students can now access the best universities and bridge different education systems around the world. One of our international partners recently shared how difficult it was for students and parents to identify the right education programme. There is a wider range of higher education and English language programmes available today, making it important for students to get proper guidance in order to make the right decision.

This variety of academic routes has increased the need for trusted advisors. In the early nineties there were only a few agents recruiting international students to schools and universities across the world. But as the market developed, so did the need for trusted, local intermediaries to help students choose the right academic programmes, as they moved away from home for the first time. Agents are regularly cited as the most trusted source of information by international students, and we understand and appreciate the role they play, advising thousands of young men and women on the best academic routes for a successful future career. The education industry can play a pivotal role in supporting the education agent community to help them match student backgrounds and aspirations with universities and academic programmes, providing relevant recommendations in the shortest possible time.

Another major change has been the increase in universities offering tailored learning experiences for international students. While once these offerings were the exclusive domain of a few well-known higher education institutions, other world-class academic institutions have recognised the advantages of recruiting international students. Universities are developing programmes and campuses suited to a globalised economy, as they realise students have unique learning requirements due to their alternate academic backgrounds.

And it is these academic backgrounds which mean students are not only looking for course quality, but also personalised language, academic and cultural support, to achieve exceptional outcomes. Public-private partnerships designed to give international students the best preparation for their undergraduate and postgraduate study have blossomed as a result. International study centres continue to remain a win-win proposition for students and universities as more and more students choose pathway programmes to better equip themselves for higher education, before seamlessly progressing into universities.

As an organisation we have seen robust growth in the last 20 years and are now teaching over 65,000 students from more than 140 countries, who trust us to provide the best academic and life experiences. Our future will see us continue to partner with universities the world over, and develop academic programmes at our colleges and centres. We also expect distance learning to continue to expand: online education that can reach thousands of students who cannot afford, or do not want, to leave their home countries will be important in future, as will academic offerings in countries of origin. We look forward to the next 20 years of always putting students first, and are proud of our position in a sector that continues to grow, evolve and excite.

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