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Five common pathway programme myths

By James Pitman, Managing Director for Higher Education in the UK and Europe, Study Group

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | December 23, 2017 | Students

Pathway programmes are a boon for international students: they ease the path to university, complement the core degree programme with employability skills, and help them acclimatise to – in some cases – radically different learning environments. In doing so, they pave the way for educational and career success as well as personal fulfilment. 

Nonetheless, they’re susceptible to a number of harmful and damaging misconceptions – misconceptions that contribute to negative perceptions of international students and discourage them from applying to UK universities. This is a shame for several reasons: it’s bad for the students, it’s bad for the institutions, and it’s bad for the country. Here are five of the most common myths – and why they’re wrong. 

Myth #1: Visas should be dependent on English-language fluency

It’s a common belief that international students who come to this country without total reading, writing, and spoken English comprehension are somehow deficient. 

This is patently wrong for several reasons, but the most obvious is that there is no correlation between English-language ability on arrival in the UK and ultimate academic performance. Success in arts, science, or humanities has little to no relevance to linguistic comprehension: the objection is largely cultural, and entirely misguided, as most pathway programmes incorporate English-language modules into their offering alongside the subject of choice to ensure that the students have the appropriate level of English on acceptance to degree level study. 

Myth #2: Pathway programmes and international students take away domestic places

As places on degree courses are finite, many believe that international students occupy space that could otherwise go to deserving domestic candidates. 

The truth is that the revenue accumulated from international students subsidises – to a significant degree – the education of domestic students. These domestic students often cost institutions money: their fee levels sit at £9,250, where international students are charged some £14,500. Pathway programmes and the global learners who arrive through them boost university revenue, which boosts university places, particularly in a market where universities are free to expand and grow total student numbers.

Myth #3: International students ruin the rental market 

The average person may accept that international students are not a burden in terms of revenue, but many believe that the literal space they occupy is a bigger problem – causing accommodation issues for domestic students and local renters. But in truth, international students raise the availability of student accommodation in general.

In the last five years, some 50,000 additional rooms have been built – courtesy of a 30% increase in inward investment from overseas. 

Myth #4: International students take domestic students’ part-time jobs

The idea that immigrants are ‘taking jobs’ is a popular anti-immigration sentiment, but it’s doubly wrong when applied to international students – who aren’t migrants in the traditional sense because 97% of them leave after completion of their study, and certainly aren’t stealing anyone’s livelihoods.

In fact, they couldn’t if they wanted to. Amongst other limitations, their usual work week is capped at 20 hours. This immediately makes them ineligible for many jobs – meaning their impact on the overall part-time labour pool is close to negligible. Indeed, many have no entitlement to work at all.

Myth #5: International students are taking graduate jobs 

It’s also believed that students on pathway programmes are on a fast track to take graduate jobs from domestic students. Quite apart from the fact that domestic students themselves believe that international students should have exactly the same work rights as them, it simply isn’t happening: NUS research finds no evidence of it. 

That the UK has opportunities for international students is undeniable. That these opportunities must come at the expense of the UK is flatly untrue. Our institutions offer a first-rate education to anyone who lives here – and through pathway programmes, they can additionally provide it to anyone qualified from anywhere in the world, who bring jobs, economic benefit and then act as ambassadors for the UK when they return home.

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