The shifting global landscape for education providers and students

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The global landscape is changing rapidly, for both education providers and students.

Dr Vicky Lewis, Director of international education consultancy Vicky Lewis Consulting, highlights some top trends and explores their implications.

Influx of alternative providers

As observed in a recent report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, post-compulsory education is becoming a much more open market. Large numbers of alternative providers (online providers, private companies and other non-traditional learning organisations) are entering the fray. National borders are becoming less rigid. The educational experience can be (and is starting to be) ‘unbundled’ or broken down into its constituent parts.

This results in an increased blurring of the boundaries between learning that takes place in situ and learning which is delivered remotely; between formal and informal study. It also leads to opportunities for students to select the learning (and type of learning experience) they need for the particular life and career stage they are at.

In the face of this wide-ranging competition, more traditional providers need to have a long, hard think about what they excel at. For many, the time has come to stop trying to be all things to all people, define their core mission and focus on fulfilling this really well.

New models of partnership working

Working in partnership with others is something many education providers have done for years. However, as this article in The PIE News highlights, certain (more commercial) types of partnership are expected to proliferate. An increase in private investors in international education, coupled with reduced public funding in many destination countries, is leading to more public-private partnerships.

These include partnerships for student recruitment (though well-established elsewhere, the use of recruitment agents has only recently been sanctioned in the USA); partnerships for delivery of pathway programmes which prepare students for higher-level study (see my blog on this market segment); and partnerships for transnational education via a range of models – from distance and blended learning to full international campuses.

Partnerships will play a key role in addressing growing demand, particularly from the middle classes in emerging economies, for an international education delivered at home.

Established institutions will need to develop more flexible approaches to partnership, whilst enhancing their own capacity to manage the risks which are part and parcel of collaborating across organisational cultures.

Spotlight on globally connected consumers

In many parts of the world, there is increased emphasis on ‘the student experience’. This is partly self-interest: happy students say nice things about their institution or provider on social media and can play a major role in boosting (or damaging) reputation.

Less cynically, it’s clear that greater attention is being paid to understanding students’ desired outcomes from their education. These are many and varied, but improving their employment prospects in a globally interconnected world is a common theme.

As a result, there is a growing move in countries such as the UK, USA and Australia to develop students’ global competencies via the facilitation of interactions with those from different cultures. This interaction can be in the classroom (physical or virtual) or through work and study placements abroad.

As highlighted in this report by The Student Room, technology means that the world will feel smaller for tomorrow’s students. They have grown up with smart phones that provide a gateway to numerous platforms where they can learn from their peers in other countries and communicate across language barriers. They will expect this level of global interaction to continue throughout their studies – and education providers will need to learn how to support and facilitate this.

What does this mean for providers and students?

The common themes here are around adaptability and flexibility. Providers must be clear about where they fit into the post-compulsory education landscape and willing to adapt to meet the needs of their target students.

Students will be exposed to a wider menu of choices when it comes to their ongoing education. In many respects, this makes it a buyer’s market. However, the sheer variety of new providers and models makes it harder for students to evaluate and compare different offerings.

To minimise confusion, providers will need to communicate clearly and honestly who they are, what values drive them and the sort of experience and outcomes their students can expect.

Vicky Lewis is an independent consultant specialising in international strategy development and marketing planning for educational institutions.

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