Writing for The PIE Blog, Pat Moores, director and co-founder of UK Education Guide, considers this question.

“The onus is on agents to make sure they clearly understand what type of program will suit a student”

The number of students entering foundation programs in the UK tripled between 2012/13 and 2017/18 from 10,430 to 30,030, writes Pat Moores of UK Education Guide. They offer a great bridge between high school and university for many pupils.

However, as the range of the providers grows and the number of course options increase, clarifying where these courses sit within the UK education system would certainly help prospective students and their families.

Explaining that entry to foundation programs can start in Year 12 (age 16+) in the UK is helpful as many families assume that their children need to complete high school in their home countries before a foundation program can begin.

This then leads to explaining the cost saving benefits of foundation programs. Brooke House College now has as many pupils studying their one year UFP (University Foundation Programme) as it does its two year A-Level program.

As principal Mike Oliver points out, for families considering paying international university fees for three or four years, post 18, a foundation program can make excellent financial sense as it potentially saves one year’s school fees.

Caroline Nixon, director of BAISIS (British Association of Independent Schools with International Students) adds that “as an alternative to the traditional two year A-Level or IB course, foundation courses will suit some students well.

“Boarding schools are increasingly offering this option and their tradition of excellent pastoral care of young people is likely to be seen as an advantage.”

But how to help families differentiate between different types of foundation programs?

There is a relatively clear distinction between programs that offer a bundle of foundation and degree program versus those foundation programs that are stand alone, allowing the student to decide on the university at which they wish to study for their degree either during or after they have completed their foundation course.

There are clearly advantages and disadvantages to both options but this is an important differentiator for customers trying to understand the market.

For example, some students who are new to the UK might not wish to commit up front to potentially four or five years in the same UK city, whilst others might value this continuity.

Also, changing subject pathway can be harder under the bundle approach, so this approach may better suit a student who is very clear on the subject of study at degree level.

Some stand alone foundation courses offer massive flexibility in terms of study options, which will definitely suit students that are more undecided on what degree they want to study and where.

“At St Clare’s we have restructured the academic offerings so that students do not need to choose a particular combination or stream, and so can make up a program of study – with our advice – which best prepares them for their preferred university outcome,” explained Paul Sinclair, director of studies, academic programs at St Clare’s in Oxford.

This flexibility also allows students to not only cast the net wide in terms of UK university options, but also allows them to look at university options beyond the UK.

In relation to the value of location, Ellesmere College is looking to meet the needs of students who may be reticent to travel in a Covid-19 world by considering offering their foundation course as an ongoing online option from Sept 21, with a short college residential period included in the delivery.

One thing is clear: in such a complex market, the onus is on agents to make sure they clearly understand what type of program will suit a student before approaching any foundation provider. Foundation providers, like Kings Education, will provide a bespoke prospectus for each potential student, if the brief they receive from the agent is clear.

The agent’s initial assessment of the student’s needs should consider all important variables including academic and English competency, personal confidence, certainty about location and degree subject level.

If the needs of each young person and family are fully assessed at the start of the process, many foundation options can be taken off the table, thus making a real difference to presenting only relevant options from day one.

About the author: Pat Moores is the director and co-founder of UK Education Guide