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Why choose the IB?

Why choose the IB?

What's behind the increasing popularity of the International Baccalaureate? Freelance education writer Nick Morrison explores this question for Winter's...


From its beginnings in just a dozen schools almost 50 years ago, the International Baccalaureate diploma has become one of the most widely-used 16-19 programmes in the world. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the IB is available in more than 140 countries and in every continent except Antarctica.

And recent years have seen a surge in popularity, amid a growing appreciation of the benefits of the IB among schools, universities and employers.

In 2015, the diploma was offered in more than 2,300 schools and taken by more than 140,000 students, increases of 20 and 25% respectively on the 2011 figures.

There are a number of factors behind this growth. One is that the IB is seen as particularly relevant in an increasingly globalised world. The fact that it is so widely available means it is understood and accepted around the world, making it highly portable between countries.

"The IB is offered by more than 1,600 international schools..."

This makes is especially attractive to international schools, whose students are more likely to move  from one country to another during their education. The IB is offered by more than 1,600 international schools, the second most popular course of study after UK-based curricula.

All students are required to study a foreign language. Photograph: iStock

All students are required to study a foreign language. Photograph: iStock

The international element of the IB lies in more than just its name. As well as the requirement to study a foreign language, many of the subjects have an international angle. The literature course involves studying works in translation as well as in the student’s own language, for example.

Assessment, which is largely carried out by external examination, also rewards students who display an international outlook and intercultural skills.

For schools, an advantage of the IB is that it offers a breadth that is rarely found in alternative qualifications. This means students going onto higher education are not closing down their options in the way their A-level peers often do by opting to pursue either science or humanities.

The benefits of the IB saw its take-up among UK schools increase over the last decade, although the higher cost of delivering the diploma compared with A-levels - given its greater contact time - means this growth has slowed following cuts to school budgets.

The diploma has been largely free of the kind of grade inflation that has afflicted many national qualifications, meaning that grades are broadly comparable over time, unlike A-levels, for example, where the number of A grades has risen steeply in recent years.

This has helped it become increasingly popular among university admissions tutors. A number of UK universities have lowered their entry requirements for IB students in recent years, in recognition of both the demands of the course and the reliability of its assessments.

"...IB students perform well at university compared with their A-level peers..."

In 2013, King’s College London, for example, reduced the number of IB points it considered equivalent to one A* and two A grades at A-level from 39 to 35, out of a possible 45.

Although some admissions tutors are still relatively unfamiliar with the IB, there is a growing awareness of its value in producing well-rounded students, and of developing skills that are vital at degree level, such as time-management and self-directed learning.

Research shows that IB students perform well at university compared with their A-level peers. A Leeds University study found that students who took higher level maths at IB were more likely than those who took A-level maths to get a first class degree in a broad range of subjects, including biological sciences, chemistry, computer sciences, economics, engineering, maths and physics.

IB students are more likely to get a first class degree. Photograph: Winter's

IB students are more likely to get a first class degree. Photograph: Winter's

And analysis by the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that IB students were more likely to go to a top 20 ranked university than their A-level peers, more likely to get a first class degree and more likely to go onto postgraduate study.

For employers, the breadth of the IB makes it an appealing qualification, helping ensure that arts students are numerate and scientists are literate. The high profile given to team-working and presentation skills can also be a significant advantage in the workplace.

A foreign language is undoubtedly an asset to companies that are increasingly likely to operate across national boundaries, as is the international outlook cultivated by the IB. It is not surprising that for many, the IB appears tailor-made for today’s world.

More information on the IB diploma is available from the International Baccalaureate Organisation

You can find out more about the IB in our article  The International Baccalaureate: what is it?

 Top image: Winter's


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