Course choices at UK FE colleges are plentiful. At Dudley College, choices include BTEC, Access and HND vocational qualifications, explains International Operations Manager, Krishna Singh, as well as English language programmes and foundation degree programmes. At Liverpool Community College (LCC), meanwhile, BTEC diploma qualifications are offered across a wide range of vocational areas. Denia Kincade at LCC says its Access programmes are popular for students who don’t meet HE entry requirements in their chosen subject. “The most popular subject is still business,” she reports. “However, the college is developing courses in green industries, and I think these will be popular.”
Victoria Pyle at Edinburgh’s Telford College, Scotland, says many overseas students are interested in courses with job prospects in their home countries or globally. The college offers a variety of vocational courses from foundation level to recently introduced “top-up” degrees. She explains learners can gain a qualification each year for the three years they study, and benefit from “Real Working Experience Centres”, gaining “that essential competitive advantage”.
Overseas students at LCC tend to like English studies, but, notes Kincade, as the college offers tasters in any vocational subject, this serves as a progression route into the subject once their English is sufficient.At City of Sheffield International College, the majority of international students study English, says Janette Donjon. However, the college enrols overseas students across the board, on A-level courses and vocational programmes in subjects such as dentistry and sport as well as business.
The sheer variety of courses and qualifications on offer can be confusing, especially for overseas candidates. However, Pyle explains Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Diploma (HND) courses are the equivalent of the first and second year of a bachelor degree programme, level 5. Meanwhile, FE colleges also widely offer level 3 and 4 qualifications. Gower College in Wales offers vocational courses spanning levels 3-to-5, as well as a dedicated A-level centre, explains Suzanne Samuel.
Samuel highlights the advantages of pursuing tertiary study in the UK’s FE sector. “Fees in further education colleges are generally significantly cheaper than in higher education,” she notes, adding that their combination of vocational and academic programmes allows greater student flexibility.
Also, says Kincade, “Tuition hours in FE tend to be higher than in HE, and tutors are very accessible and supportive.” She notes LCC has a lot of support services, from hearing and sight impairment to dyslexia, and mentors for students who are struggling.
“I think it is a shame many overseas students do not recognise the FE brand,” she comments, “because we tend to offer a much wider range of services at a better price value. We are also very stable institutions, with more long-term permanent teachers and links to a range of examining boards in order to meet the needs of all students.”
Lucy Whitehead from the British Accreditation Council (BAC), the private FE and HE college accreditation body, adds, “Some of our colleges have excellent connections with relevant industries, and graduate employment rates are very good.” Among them she cites the Met Film School and Escape Studios, which provides training for the three-dimensional graphics industry.
However, TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training Organisation) UK’s Matthew Anderson observes it is not an either/or choice whether to opt for FE or HE. “Studying an FE qualification in the UK can allow the student to progress to a UK university.” A suitable pass at HND can, he says, “catapult you into the final year of a degree, so you end up with two qualifications, relevant work experience and a better chance of success in the future”.
Confident in the quality of their education, many FE colleges are successfully recruiting overseas. With over 2,000 international students, Edinburgh’s Telford College claims to be one of Scotland’s biggest international recruiters. Meanwhile, many others are working from a smaller base. City of Sheffield International College has built up an overseas student base of around 200, recruiting via student fairs, agents and its website, and, reports Janette Donjon, is currently seeking agents in emerging markets. Similarly, Gower College in Wales, is looking for agents in Thailand, Nigeria, Hong Kong and Southern India.
Dudley College is another institution actively recruiting abroad. “We have refined our processes, as instead of having lots of agents in one country, we are going for a reduced number with exclusive rights to recruit purely for us,” comments Krishna Singh. Meanwhile, it is also doing more in-country work, such as its joint ventures in China and India, and training programmes in the Middle East region.
Colleges are also able to call on the help of their representative bodies, such as TVET UK, to help them expand internationally. Matthew Anderson highlights that TVET, which works on behalf of both public and private sector colleges, helps them into markets where access is difficult.
However, new immigration rules mean that while overseas students in publically funded HE establishments may still work for up to 20 hours per week, those in publicly funded FE colleges are restricted to 10 hours per week, and those at private colleges no longer enjoy any work rights (see STM July 2011, page 38).
The Association of Colleges’ John Mountford is among those lobbying for a change to the current regulations.“FE colleges have to meet rigorous quality marks through [the accreditation body] Ofsted [or QAA]. Therefore,” he argues, “they should not be differentiated [from other highly trusted sponsors].”