IELP is About Long-Term Investment, Not Short-Term Gain
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are the most significant challenges to participating in the international English language program (IELP) marketplace?
Beth Greenwood (BG): In many ways it has to do with really reflecting — as an institution — on why do you want to do this? Why do you want to get involved in the English language market? If you’re doing it because you want to bring capital into your institution, that’s not a good reason for entering this market. There are many challenges involved in it as well as opportunities. If your institution is thinking of moving into it, then here are some of the questions I recommend you think about, for example: Do you see it as a pipeline for bringing in students into your matriculated programs? Do you see it as bringing students simply for the study of English? Do you see it as connecting with some larger academic goal?
The first challenge is having to have a very clear picture of why you’re doing it.
The second challenge is you have to be very clear about what resources you can harness in order to participate in the English language marketplace.
Bringing students from another country brings a high degree of responsibility. You need to have a very clear picture and then you need to think very carefully about the resources you need to invest in order to have a successful program. Here are some of them:
How are you going to market the programs? Who are you going to market them to? Are you going to focus on one part of the world or are you going to focus on many parts of the world? Do you already have institutional relationships that you can build on in order to bring students to your campus to study English? Do you have a supportive infrastructure to hold students from other countries? Do you have housing, immigration support, counseling (which is critical for making sure students from other countries going through ongoing cultural adjustments have what they need in order to succeed)? These are just some of the types of resources your institution must provide a dedicated effort to in order to begin or increase an English language program.
While it may look easy on its face, it actually is not. It takes a dedicated institutional effort from the top to the bottom.
Evo: Why is it valuable for institutions to compete and succeed in this market?
BG: If an institution wants to be seen as a player in international global education, then it’s almost essential that you have an English language program. The second level is looking within your institution itself and what folks who participate in this program bring to it. Students from other countries who come to your institution — whether to study English or some other area — really enrich campus environments. They bring perspectives which are critical in an international labor and employment marketplace. By supporting English language programs and becoming involved on a very broad level, it’s really critical if an institution wants to be seen as globalized.
Finally, these students can often be a pipeline into your institution as matriculated students; on a very practical level, that has become increasingly important for universities. However, if your institution is not clear about where this fits in and the resources it will dedicate to its English language programs, then I think it’s best not to jump into that marketplace because it really does require this dedication of resources on an ongoing basis. The international marketplace for English language learning is highly competitive and you have to be able to compete with the very best.
Evo: UC institutions operate in a loose consortium when it comes to IELP outreach. What are the benefits and drawbacks to this approach?
BG: Over the many years of this consortium — and it’s existed for more than 30 years — I have to say that the benefits have been tremendous. You can’t just slam a consortium like this together; it comes from building trusting relationships. It doesn’t mean we don’t compete against each other. In competitive situations, our campuses are distinct, so we emphasize the strength of our campuses, but there have been tremendous benefits from this approach.
The first one is we view ourselves as part of an institution — the University of California — and in the end our goal is to promote that strength of the University of California, so that’s a commonality we all have: a dedication to the standards and values and robustness of this outstanding public institution. Sometimes we’ve undertaken partner programs that have come to us through the consortium because, perhaps, a client wants to work with two of us together. Over the years, we have had various kinds of partnerships, both as a whole consortium and between campuses. It’s resulted in opportunities that we didn’t anticipate when we first came together.
One of the most valuable aspects of having the consortium is being able to share knowledge and perspective to vet ideas with each other. One of the direct benefits is that we’re able to do some international marketing together and sometimes we’re able to send business to each other because each of the campuses are distinctive and have distinctive strengths.
The consortium has brought tremendous value with very little downside. The only instance where I could see issue is that the University of California is a highly decentralized institution and we tried several experiments of working together as one large institution and they were very difficult. That might be easier for other institutions. I would say it’s been 98-percent benefit and two-percent a challenge now and then, but well worth it.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the roadblocks for entry into this marketplace for new players, and what new leaders in this marketplace should expect once they decide to dip a toe in the water?
BG: It’s very important to understand that if an institution does want to enter the market that it’s moving into a mature, highly-competitive marketplace. It’s absolutely critical to put aside and be willing to dedicate the institutional resources from top to bottom toward entering this market. You’ll find there are many institutions abroad that have already been working with universities and with colleges and community colleges for many years. You’re going to have to figure out what is distinctive about you; why are they going to be interested in working with a new institution when there are so many fine institutions that are already engaged with the marketplace? Any program that’s not done well, sadly, reflects on the field itself. In terms of the competitive marketplace, many of the countries where people are learning English provide their own English language instruction; they’re not necessarily sending students to the United States. Additionally, some of our wonderful colleagues in Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and other English-speaking countries have been there long before the United States. They have a very robust presence in the marketplace. For those in the United States who are thinking about entering this area, please be aware you’re not just competing with American institutions, but you’re competing with very sophisticated institutions from abroad where governments have actually given quite a bit of support for them to be highly competitive in the international marketplace.
This interview has been edited for length.
Author Perspective: Administrator