Credit: GIC

Inside the ‘chaotic’ Glasgow International College

By Jan Jasinski

“I know it’s wrong, but it was an option open to me, so I took it”

Interviews with over half a dozen Glasgow International College students reveal the inside workings of a pathway designed to allow international fee-paying students to get into the University with far lower grades than Scottish or UK students.

The Glasgow Guardian investigation follows a Sunday Times story published earlier this month, which named 15 of the 24 Russell Group universities, but not UofG, as hosts of so-called ‘foundation years’, programmes allowing international students to take special one-year courses run by private companies, and directly enter onto the second year of a regular university degree.

A similar programme to the one described by the Sunday Times is also present at the University of Glasgow: the Glasgow International College, which is run by Kaplan Pathways, an American education firm. Kaplan operates similar programmes in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. While programmes of this kind are present at other Scottish universities, including Strathclyde, Stirling, and Heriot-Watt, the only ancient universities engaged in such programmes are Aberdeen and Glasgow.

For example, to enter an MA in Business & Management at UofG, an English student would have to achieve grades of AAB at A-levels to get into the pathway course, an international student with English qualifications would only need AABBB at GCSE level.

The contrast is similarly stark for international students. While UofG demands a GPA of 3.5 out of 4.0 from US students, GIC is satisfied with a 2.3. Regular students from Nigeria and Ghana need all A’s and B’s in the WAEC Senior School Certificate, which one Ghanian student described as “definitely not easy”—however, an overall average of C, which can be obtained with “little effort” is all that is required for entering GIC.

For regular admission to UofG, Indian students have to achieve 75% percent in centrally administered exams, while for GIC only 60% percent is required in state examinations, seen as far less demanding.

This is the case for English language skills requirements as well. Regular UofG admission requires at least 6.5 in an IELTS test, with no sub-test below 6.0, described as “good” command of the language while for GIC, scores as low as 4.0 described as “limited” command, are accepted. Students are not tested on their English language requirements after their foundation year with an IELTS test.

Glasgow International College is located in Anderson College Complex, an old Western Infirmary building on Dumbarton Road, right next to the new Adam Smith Business School. Kaplan advertises the fact that GIC students can access UofG facilities “from day one,” just like regular students. Classes are held in the GIC building, but also regular UofG buildings including the St Andrews and the JMS, but also the GUU’s Reading Room. Students are issued with regular UofG student cards, with a small ‘Glasgow International College’ label.

GIC brochures prominently advertise the possibility to “gain entry to this prestigious Russell Group University through a pathway course on campus at Glasgow International College.” The brochure further advertises the ‘foundation certificate,’ with the only requirement being a basic English language test and completing high school, as a first step towards entering second year of an undergraduate degree, and eventually graduating from the University of Glasgow. According to these brochures, 95% of students pass the pathway course, of whom 99% of receive unconditional admission offers. Kaplan prides itself on sending an admission decision into their programme “within one working day.”

GIC charges tuition fees which are higher than regular international fees: these range from £20,000 and £42,000, depending on the degree and the length of the foundation course.

In interviews with half a dozen current and former GIC students by The Glasgow Guardian, the teaching quality was generally commended. It is unclear, however, how well the courses prepare for a degree given the limited amount of time available. Undergraduate foundation courses are estimated to take up between 18 to 20 hours a week, comparable to regular first-year students. This potentially indicates that GIC students do not have time to improve their English skills before continuing onto a degree course.

One undergraduate economics student claimed the exams were not difficult to pass for people with a sufficient English level. He also felt well-prepared for second year, saying the GIC economics course was comparable to economics 1A and 1B, and even used the same slides in some cases. The student, who completed his qualifications in England, but has a foreign passport, was able to get into GIC with just his GCSEs. He is now in second year economics at UofG. He said he knew the pathway is “wrong, but it was an option that was open” to him, so he took it.

In contrast, one civil engineering student told The Glasgow Guardian that about 85 percent of his classmates failed the exams in the first attempt. He partly attributed this to chaotic planning and the fact that all exams were taken in April, with the following five months before degree entry offering no chance to improve Engineering skills. Some of his classmates had to return home without receiving an offer to continue to University. Others passed in a resit, only to fail their second-year exams at university. He personally belonged to the few people passing in the first attempt. Nevertheless, he felt as if he spent his second year “catching up and filling in the gaps from GIC.”

A University spokesperson said the following: “The University of Glasgow is a proudly global institution and believes international students contribute enormously to life on campus as well as providing cultural, societal and economic benefits to Glasgow, Scotland and the UK.

“The Glasgow International College was established in partnership with Kaplan 17 years ago to help overseas students from other education systems reach the academic and language skills they require to meet the institution’s admissions standards. Students have several course options at Glasgow International College to prepare for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree subject to University approval and the meeting of our admissions entry requirements, as is the case for all applicants. 

“Where a domicile student is not based in the UK, they could be accepted onto the Foundation programme if they meet the entry requirement.”

The University subsequently issued the following rebuttal to the story:

“This Glasgow Guardin story misleadingly conflates degree and pathway programme entry requirements, ignoring the crucial difference. Your story shares details relating to entry requirements for pathway programmes via GIC and not UofG degree programmes. These foundation requirements are not comparable to entry requirements to our degree programmes, as is suggested in the article.

“It is therefore wholly inaccurate to suggest international students can enter UofG degree courses with DDD grades. The whole point of a pathway programme is that a student doesn’t meet UofG degree programme entry level requirements.

“Students on pathway courses are not gaining direct entry to Glasgow because they don’t meet our published entry requirements. This is an access programme akin to the access programmes we have for Home students.

“We have a robust, transparent and equitable admissions policy that is consistently applied at every stage of the recruitment process. GIC students need to meet an academic threshold and English language threshold before they can progress to Glasgow after a year of study, which would then be equivalent to those who meet direct entry requirements.”

With Reporting by Felix Granzow

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