This week, David Jones, Chair of the International Education Forum a body representing institutions engaged in international education in the Bournemouth and Poole area of the UK, talks about recent activities.

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Could you explain a little about the IEF’s role, aims and membership?

The IEF (the International Education Forum) of Bournemouth and Poole is an association made up of the key international-facing educational institutions in this area, from HE and FE to language schools and several other organisations dealing with the placement of international students into educational institutions.

Our shared goal is to promote the area as a world class Centre for Excellence in International Education and to represent members on various external committees. Members currently include Bournemouth and Poole College, the Arts University Bournemouth, White House Guardianships, Shadows and 14 of the local accredited English language schools. 

The association benefits from the assistance and participation of the two local tourism boards (Bournemouth and Poole) which both greatly value the contribution made to the local economy by international students. The association also has the support of both Bournemouth and Poole Borough Councils. 


The key roles of the IEF are:

·         Marketing the Bournemouth/Poole area and its educational provision internationally.

·         Identifying external barriers to the success of the international education sector.

·         Lobbying local, regional and national authorities in order to facilitate business development within the international education sector.

·         Liaising with local government, business and tourism bodies in order to pass on members’ concerns and views on relevant topics.


What activities has the group been engaged in over the last 12 months?

The orientation of the IEF has shifted to focus much more on the marketing of Bournemouth and Poole – and the wider area beyond – as an attractive study destination. 

The IEF has contributed to Bournemouth’s Town Vision, the BID scheme, the Dorset LEP, a discussion on the night-time economy, the town’s Strategic Objectives for 2013, the National Coastal Tourism Academy’s Customer Care development programme (the NCTA is Europe’s first National Coastal Tourism Academy) and various other matters that affect our organisation and international students to make sure that we remain involved in the processes and decisions that affect our businesses.

I have been able to raise issues (such as the inconsistency of the student visas regime) that have affected our sector at local government level and higher. We have enjoyed excellent support from Bournemouth and Poole Councils, from the constituent members of the BTMB, the Bournemouth and Poole Tourism teams and from local MPs, including, in particular, Conor Burns MP. 

With Mr Burns’s assistance and support, a small delegation of IEF members was able to travel up to the Home Office in London to meet with the Minister for Immigration and discuss the government’s view of the ESVV [Extended Student Visitor Visa] route and future plans relating to the monitoring and control of international student visas, etc. This was a very helpful meeting, which happily confirmed that the government had no plans to remove the ESVV route.


How has 2013 been so far for IEF and its members?

We are delighted that against the backdrop of a difficult global economic situation, bookings amongst IEF members for short and long-term courses this summer and autumn seem to be not only holding steady but actually surging ahead. On average, members are talking about business having been about 10% up on the same period last year, with a few members reporting an increase in bookings of up to 30% this summer. 


Are there any challenges facing providers in Bournemouth in terms of recruiting international students?

The challenges we face are very similar to those faced by all institutions catering for international students in the UK. The biggest single issue in recent times has been the chaos in the student visas system.  However, we have been delighted to read some much more positive things have been happening recently that seem to indicate that there may now be a better understanding at a governmental level of how our industry operates and helps to boost the wider economy. We have to recognise the excellent work that English UK and Tony Millns in particular have done on behalf of our sector. We are confident that this sea change will undo some of the damage that has been done to student and representative confidence in recent times.  In Bournemouth and Poole, apart from a few hiccups, student bookings seem only to have increased over the last few years across the sector, in spite of the constant meddling with the system and the poor global economic situation.  It is difficult to explain this, although I do believe that we have all managed to maintain momentum both in marketing terms and also in terms of delivery of a higher-quality service.


What marketing activities do you have planned over the coming year?

Following a town-level agreement between Bournemouth and Zibo in China, we are planning a targeted market visit to China in late autumn/early winter of this year to do our best to establish ongoing commercial and educational ties with that city. 

We have recently updated and remodelled the IEF website and have created a blog and Facebook page. We aim to keep the Forum’s website and other channels updated with news about what the institutional members of the IEF are doing throughout the year. 

We have also initiated a programme of monthly PR activities and will be keeping the Forum and its members’ activities in the international media eye.


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