Succeeding in the IELP Marketplace Requires Understanding, Investment and FocusMaureen MacDonald | Dean of the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto
The following interview is with Maureen MacDonald, the dean of continuing studies at the University of Victoria. International English language programs (IELPs) have been in existence for years, but as institutional leaders are beginning to focus on developing new revenue streams, a bevy of colleges and universities are now looking to enter this marketplace. In this interview, MacDonald discusses some important factors for leaders to consider when looking to dip a toe into the waters of the IELP marketplace, and explains the biggest problems with the “build it and they will come” mentality.
1. What are some of the hidden costs involved with developing a robust IELP, both for the institution and for the unit itself?
The costs are going to depend somewhat on how you define your English language programs and the nature of the relationships you seek to establish with your students. In our case, we do some academic programs where we expect the students to go on to credit programming within the institution and we do others that are short term, very time specific, where the students come here for four to six or 12 weeks and then return to home institutions. The costs associated with each of those programs will vary somewhat.
Around the academic programming, recruitment is certainly a very big cost and, often, that will stem from what countries you hope to work with. If you’re dealing in an Asian market, then relationships become very important and you’re going to have to factor in travel costs in order to develop and maintain those relationships. [However], in some of the European countries, for example, they’re much more reliant on your websites so you’re able to focus on investing in the website. … Other things that you’ve got to factor in: if you’re going to use agents, they’re going to expect a commission on the fees you’re charging. …
With a lot of these things, you have to have the necessary computer systems in place that will allow you to do some of that. In terms of some of the marketing, you have to have promotional materials that can be translated into multiple languages.
There is really a full range of costs that are not readily apparent.
2. What are some of the biggest differences, when it comes to managing students, between traditional-age or even non-traditional students in a CE unit and international students?
We find for the international students we deal with coming in whose first language is not English and are still probably at best an intermediate level of English — they just require a lot more support in terms of navigating the process. For us as an institution, it requires that we recognize the way traditional North American students might interact with the campus will be quite different for an international student. Their high school experience may have been quite different; they were probably, in some cases, much more protected in terms of how you deal with the administration and their parents may have made a lot of the decisions along the way. As they become ingrained into our institution, we’ve got to equip them with some of the skills to make decisions on their own.
3. How do strong IELPs benefit the institution?
It really depends on what the institution is hoping to achieve. For us, having a strong English language program provides a pathway for recruitment for the main institution. As domestic recruitment becomes a tougher thing, institutions are looking offshore to try to find students that would be interested in attending their campuses, so having a strong English language program would certainly help facilitate that objective.
We also find it helps to really internationalize the campus. One of our priorities is to have a strong international dimension to our programming, and what better way to do that then to have students from all over the globe attending your university? … By having a strong English language program, we’re able to support graduate students or undergrad students [already on campus] in terms of them strengthening their English-language skills.
4. What are the biggest problems with practicing the “build-it-and-they-will-come” mentality in this marketplace?
One of the challenges is so much of the initial work is based on relationships. You can’t just build a program and expect people are going to show up on your doorstep unless you’re Harvard or a few other name-brand institutions.
For many of us, we have to get out and recruit and market our programs and so much of that is based on developing those necessary relationships with partner institutions, with agents and just developing a presence in the marketplace internationally. That can be a real challenge and, certainly, an expensive proposition as well. The fact that you have a great program on your campus doesn’t mean that people are going to be aware of it and think that it’s in their best interest to attend there. …
At the end of the day, one size does not fit all, so you have to be fairly calculated in terms of the type of programming you want to develop and really align it with the strategic priorities of the institution. … You really have to be clear about what you’re going to build and who it’s going to serve and how you’re going to get those people into your program.
5. Is there anything you’d like to add about some of the hidden costs and true benefits of having robust IELPs for the institution?
When it’s done well and it’s supported by strong teachers in your classrooms and strong administrators running it, and when it’s well connected to the institution, it really does bring a wonderful dimension to what the institution is able to offer students from around the world. It provides great instruction. It provides a seamless introduction to the institution.
It really can be a financial benefit, but it does require a fairly strong upfront commitment in terms of developing a really strong, robust program. You can’t just start one day and open up an English language program and hope that it’s going to return revenue in a really short period of time.