The Power and Impact of Pathways – New report by NCUK and Nous


Click here to view and download ‘The Power and Impact of Pathways’ report.

Leading university pathway provider, NCUK, and management consultancy, Nous, have published a new report that outlines why international pathways are important routes into higher education for many students, and the impact they drive for universities and the economy.

The Power and Impact of International Pathways report describes pathways as a route for students who need further academic or language support, or a bridge between local qualifications and destination countries’ education systems – for example, students who come from different education systems may have completed 12 rather than 13 years of secondary education.

Stuart Smith (pictured below), CEO of NCUK, commented:

stuart smith

It is part of our mission and purpose as a sector to bring people from different backgrounds together on to university campuses, enhancing and enriching the student experience. International pathways support students of all abilities, empowering each student to achieve their university ambitions. Pathways are vital routes into higher education for students, widening access and supporting diversity. We should celebrate the power and impact of pathway routes in transforming lives through education.

Oliver Jawara, Director at Nous Group, commented:

We are proud to contribute to this report examining the position and role of pathway providers in the international higher education recruitment market at this critical time for the sector. Current market conditions are challenging for universities across the UK, Canada and Australia and this report showcases the role pathway providers can play in supporting recruitment as a distinct channel from direct recruitment and in-country agents.

Pathway programmes are essential to standardising international education, providing international students with a well-rounded foundation for success in future academic studies. By concentrating on academic preparation, skill development, and continuous quality assurance, pathways ensure that international students are not just ready for university but are prepared to excel in higher education.

In the report, NCUK shares data on the graduate outcomes of its students, with 70% of its International Foundation Year (IFY) students going on to achieve a 2:1 or higher and 89% of its International Year One (IY1) students gaining a 2:1 or higher – with 46% achieving a first. 78% of NCUK’s IY1 students had also previously taken their IFY*1.

Smith continues:

NCUK was founded with a specific purpose to broaden access to higher education for international students. This gives us a deep and unique perspective on the value of pathway routes. Our report provides evidence that pathway students succeed at university. As a sector, we have an issue around no longer collecting enough data on international graduate outcomes. At NCUK, we have started a project to look at how we can gather and analyse more of this data, in more detail, to further demonstrate the value of pathway routes in this context.

Pathway education is also critical in supporting the diversity of international higher education, a key goal in the UK Government’s International Education Strategy. Smith further stated:

smiling ncuk students with thumbs up

We have an in-country pathway offer and our programmes are taught at over 120 schools, colleges, and universities across 40 countries. This means our students can choose to study closer to home initially. It is a strong offer considering multiple political and economic factors – such as the cost of living – currently driving changing student demand. It also positions us well to deliver a diverse body of high-quality students to our university partners, supporting their diversification efforts.

The overall international higher education market in the UK alone generated approximately £37.4bn in 2021/22, of which pathway provision accounted for at least £830m. And pathway providers drive economic impact, with the report estimating that NCUK’s graduates have contributed an estimated £670m to the UK economy.*2

The report concludes that pathway provision expands the diverse pool of students who can study overseas, improves their preparedness and chances of successfully completing their studies and gives universities an additional stable channel of recruitment which they can trust. Pathway providers can be a point of stability for universities, and hedge against the unavoidable risk institutions take in relying on income from education exports.

Click here to view and download ‘The Power and Impact of Pathways’ report.

  • *1 Data from internal reports at NCUK, as well as data provided by some of NCUK’s UK university partners, show degree classification of students once they graduated from their follow-on university programmes.
  • *2 Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) 2023 figure estimates an average contribution of £96,000 to the economy per student over their post-university career. Across from the cohorts of 2017-18 to 2021-22, 7,263 students progressed to university in the United Kingdom from NCUK.