Foundation courses have proliferated over the past few years and many international students and their families now see a foundation year as vital preparation, on arrival in the UK, before embarking on a degree program.
Even some students already studying in the UK are attracted to the idea of an additional year of acclimatizing to the culture and education system.
This is backed up by research from the UKI Forum – 40 UK Boarding Schools with international students asking for ways that universities could better support them in their transition to higher education.
This quote from one school respondent shows why foundation courses are popular even with students already studying in the UK: “Explaining the different pathways on offer, particularly for those whose IELTS (English language level) may not be high enough to go straight onto a degree course.”
Some, mainly those offered by universities or providers they engage to deliver the programs on their behalf (often on their campuses) are often quite degree-specific and it is hard to change direction, both during the foundation year and once the degree is started if the students change their mind.
However, the key advantage of this approach is that there is typically one visa that covers both the foundation and degree study period.
Alternatively, there are more general foundation courses that keep degree study options more broadly open – for example, social science foundation programs, allowing students to study multiple subjects such as economics, politics, sociology, psychology before having to select their favored subject to study at degree level.
Said Anna Matthews-Stroud, director of Kings Colleges: “An international student who is able to study a range of subjects within the foundation year is able to really understand which their preferred academic area is, while taking the time to visit a range of UK universities and decide their preferred final destination.”
Some programs sit somewhere in between
Said Adrian Hallworth, principal of Taunton School International: “Our business foundation program offers international students a tailored pathway to a huge number of undergraduate university courses. Upon successful completion of the international foundation year, students are guaranteed a place at one of over 40 universities in the UK and abroad.”
Another model is the Kings’ University of Bristol pathway which offers study options via one of its four UK study centers, but a guaranteed offer from Bristol if the course is completed successfully.
A new model that has emerged during the pandemic is the online foundation course – such as the one offered by Ellesmere College.
Said Stephen Mullock, its deputy head of external relations: “We are starting the University of London-approved international foundation program. This is both residential and online, based on the current difficulties that still exist for many in terms of travel and other such constraints. The course is highly valued by universities and again allows for a one-year focused programme covering four distinct modules.”
But what do all good courses have in common? “The fact that they are developed with international students in mind,” said Betty Dagistan, director of global engagement for Inspiring Futures Education.
“Padworth College’s NCUK course with onward progression to NCUK partner universities is designed to develop subject learning alongside English language development. The academic modules are far more accessible to international students and English language is embedded into the program.”
Additionally, a foundation program can prepare students practically and personally to be better prepared for the more independent life they will be leading at university.
Even those offered within the structured environments of boarding schools make sure students develop greater independence and resilience alongside academic and English language skills.
Said Carolyn Blackshaw, director of marketing from Brooke House College: “You won’t have someone ensuring you get up in the morning and attend lectures at university. Students’ needs to demonstrate self reliance, be a self starter and motivated to study even when someone isn’t watching. Our program allows students to develop independent learning schools, preparing them for success at university – but within a safe, secure setting.”
The focus on English language and development of independent learning skills alongside a rigorous academic program makes a foundation course the perfect choice for international students.
Additionally, the range of high-ranking universities that now accept a foundation course qualification instead of A Levels, IB or BTEC qualifications has grown over the past five years. There are also now high-quality foundation courses for entry into almost every degree subject – even medicine.
Pat Moores is the director of UK Education Guide, an independent source of advice and information about UK Education providers.
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