April 2013 issue

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UK further education

Characterised by a wide range of vocational pre-university courses and relatively cheap tuition fees, the UK’s FE colleges offer many more benefits to international students. Claire Twyman reports.

The UK’s FE colleges, primarily focussed on teaching pre-university courses such as Business and Technology Education Council (Btec) qualifications, Higher National Diplomas (HND) and A-levels, offer international students a multitude of benefits. “Perhaps the biggest difference between FE colleges and other providers in the UK is the range of vocational provision on offer,” explains Steven Brown from Clydebank College in Glasgow, adding that subjects offered at the college vary from motor vehicle maintenance to social care. “Each course tends to focus heavily on developing employability and skills,” he says.

Meanwhile, Annette Farley from Bournemouth and Poole College notes that FE colleges are a good option for students from countries where their qualifications for UK university entrance are insufficient, and Sarah Digón from Sussex Downs College in East Sussex – where courses cover service and creative industries such as travel and tourism and art and design – says that students feel well supported at these institutions because class sizes are smaller. “As they receive funding from the UK government, course fees for international students tend to be significantly lower than at privately owned colleges and universities,” she adds. “The traditional assumption that low prices equal low quality does not apply – the British government pays for our facilities, teachers and materials so we do not need to charge premium prices to international students.”

Despite these benefits, a number of FE colleges have seen dwindling international student numbers in recent years, according to contributors. Brown explains, “The FE sector is currently being squeezed by visa regulation, HE institutions introducing their own international foundation programmes and by cuts forcing a reduction in potential capacity.”

Gloucestershire College, however – a large institution offering A-levels in a range of subjects such as archaeology, sociology and world development – has doubled its international student intake in recent years. Farman Kaveh at the college puts this down to increasingly pro-active recruitment methods and agent activities, adding that it has seen success in new markets such as Nigeria, Iran, Turkey and Kazakhstan. The college is also working to develop foundation programmes to attract more international students, and Kaveh says, “More than 30 different universities now accept our business-based foundation course, and we’re launching an engineering foundation course in September 2013. We’ve also launched courses for EU students whereby they can take government-funded courses with a small supplement to cover full English support and involvement with the wider international student body.”

John Leggott College (JLC) in Lincolnshire is also able to provide free tuition to students with EU passports, as Helen Lee from the International and Alumni department highlights. Non-EU students pay £7,500 (US$11,753) per year, Lee says, adding, “We are most popular with students from countries who know the British education system well – for example Hong Kong. Parents know that their children can get high-quality but affordable education at government colleges that they can’t get in their own country.” Most internationals at the college study A-level or Btec courses in subjects such as maths, science, economics or business, although “the A-level taster course that started in 2011 is growing in popularity. We are looking at other new courses to appeal to a wider range of students from overseas.” Students need an Ielts score of 5.0 or equivalent to study at JLC, although the college does offer English for Ielts lessons. Westminster Kingsway College in London also offers students British Council accredited ESL support. “Alternatively, some students choose to study English language with the college before enrolling on a curriculum specialism or by enrolling for one year on the college’s International Foundation Programme,” says Nicole Barber at the institution, “where English is a key development focus along with study skills and personal development.” Outside of ESL support, the college offers a range of programmes including the new International Culinary Diploma – a skills-based intensive programme “for students from all over the world who want to learn at the leading UK culinary arts establishment in the heart of London,” says Barber.

Just outside of London at Waltham Forest College, where internationals make up 10 per cent of the total full-time student body, Patrick Lawlor highlights that graduating Higher National Certificates (HNC) and HND students can complete their subject at degree level at a university in just one year. “Some include work placements to provide the student with a chance... to gain useful industry experience,” he adds, explaining, “Students from countries where English is a second language such as India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana have favoured FE in the past, but now we are seeing students from the Far East and South America studying longer courses at FE institutions.”

Walsall College in the West Midlands, meanwhile, has a strong international student intake on business courses, and Manjeet Kumari-Lal at the college puts this down to Asian students’ – making up a large proportion of overseas students at the institution – strong sense of entrepreneurialism. Working on projects in countries such as India, Brazil and Germany, college representatives recently attended a trade mission to Brazil with the Association of Colleges and the British Council. “As a result of the mission, Walsall College is one of the institutes working on development of the Science Without Borders initiative,” enthuses Kumari-Lal – a Brazilian government scholarship programme aiming to send 100,000 Brazilian students on science, technology, engineering, mathematical and creative courses around the world.

Recruitment strategies

A number of contributors report that UK FE colleges are increasingly use agents for student recruitment purposes. “Agents do play a big role,”says Farman Kaveh from Gloucestershire College, “A big change recently has been in relation to the importance of maintaining a good record with the UK Border Agency to protect our critically important highly trusted sponsor status... It’s important to work with people that you know understand both the college and the visa system well.” Meanwhile, Sarah Digón from Sussex Downs College in East Sussex says, “We attend workshops and exhibitions organised by the British Council, English UK and Alphe.”

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