Global skills demand could boost UK’s FE colleges

12 June, 2014

The global demand for skills-based education offers an immense opportunity for the UK’s FE college sector, UK Minister for Skills and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock, told delegates in a keynote speech at the Association of Colleges International Conference 2014 yesterday.

Photo: UK Minister for Skills and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock, delivers the keynote address at the Association of Colleges International Conference 2014

Participants from the FE sector at the 6th AoC International Conference, held at the Immarsat Conference Centre in London, UK, also heard about opportunities for delivery of projects overseas and recruitment strategy advice on working with agents.

Minister Hancock gave an overview of the UK’s International Education Strategy, which was released last year, and the global demand for providing skills and education. “The scale of the challenge worldwide is immense; the scale of the opportunity is immense,” he said.

“Education is one of our key exports. We are highly respected and have a strong brand around the world,” he said. “We want the UK to play a leading role.”

He added that government has a key part to play in the promotion of the UK’s international education industry, and praised the UK Trade & Investment Education team for pursuing the international education strategy and for already meeting a target of delivering UK£I billion (US$1.68 billion) of business by 2015. He cited the successful example of Saudi Arabia’s investment in technical and vocational education projects, where 40 per cent of the contracts have been signed with the UK.

In response to a number of questions regarding the UK’s visa policy, which many delegates said was hampering recruitment, Hancock defended the system. “We’ve got to be firm and realistic,” he said, adding that the recent European elections had highlighted that concerns about immigration were a key issue for the electorate. He did promise look into complaints that the FE sector is marginalised within the present system in favour of higher education institutions.

Opening the conference, Norman Cave, Principal and Chief Executive of Bournville College and AoC International Portfolio Group Chair, reflected on the international environment for the FE sector, and said, “It’s not gotten any easier and in fact it’s gotten a whole lot tougher over the last year.” He added that scandals in the private sector have had a knock-on effect on the public sector. But the growing global recognition that skills-based qualifications are more important than degrees offered great potential, he said.

The conference featured a number of optional sessions, including one themed on working with agents in Latin America, in which Ayesha Williams, International Charter and Policy Officer at AoC, and Sue Sharkey, Director of International and Teacher Training at Bournemouth and Poole College, advised that a personal approach, patience and investment is required to build a productive agent network in Brazil and Colombia.

Williams also revealed that AoC is working to get the FE college sector included within Brazil’s Science without Borders scholarship scheme and Chile’s Penguins without Borders study abroad programme.

In another session on working with agents, Sharjeel Nawaz, Assistant Principal Business Development, Employer Engagement and Marketing at Croydon College, said, “Most of us, to function in a competitive environment, need agents.” He said that good agents can help to identify students, be a first point of contact for an institution, assess student ability, help students to complete applications and provide on-the-ground market intelligence. “Honest, professional agents can enhance the reputation of your college,” he said. “Alternatively, an inappropriate agency partnership could cost you your reputation and Tier 4 license.”

Bharat Pamnani, Assistant Director, UK Visas and Immigration at the Home Office, also delivered a session on student visas in which he said 90 per cent of non-settlement visa applications outside the UK are being processed within 15 days. He also urged colleges to report any subjective refusals for student visas to AoC.

Print This Page Close Window Archive