Britian has an education sector that is facing challenges. UK Border Agency controls have become tighter, hampering both recruitment for education institutions and employers alike.
A recent Department for Business, Innovation and Skills report said: “The sector remains concerned that media reporting of recent changes have created a perception that the UK is less welcoming to international students. Such perceptions could have a negative impact on the sector in the future.”
While opportunities for foreign students in Britain are heavily curtailed, the UK government is looking abroad to significantly expand Britain's education exports. However, as David Willets MP, Minister for Universities and Science, says, “Countries like India quite rightly want a reciprocal partnership with the UK based upon shared values and mutual respect.”
This is difficult when the perception both within and outside the country is that government rhetoric does not match action. But in terms of exporting Brand Britain particularly to India, the country has made huge strides in recent years. The Association of Colleges (AoC) represents the UK's Further Education sector and supports British institutions looking to establish and grow in India.
We caught up for a Q&A with John Mountford, International Director of the Association of Colleges on his thoughts about Britain′s Further Education system and how it could work together with India.
Britain has a world-class furthereducation (FE) system, but some believe the UK Border Agency has a lack of understanding about vocational students' requirements. What do you think
The UK has a world-class FE system that offers a responsive, demand driven approach that best fits international partners and students' needs. It is fantastic that we have a large number of international students who want to come and study in the UK on our sector's excellent vocational, academic and English language programmes; they add a great deal to our campuses, courses and classrooms.
It is extremely frustrating that student visa legislation is having a negative impact on international student recruitment, especially in key markets such as India. There does seem to be, on occasion, a lack of understanding shown by the Home Office to students looking to pursue a vocational programme; this has manifested itself through inconsistent decisions around applications and a lack of clarity around the particular nature of the FE sector and its offer which has resulted in genuine students being refused visas and, in some extreme cases, colleges incorrectly having their HTS status revoked.
FE colleges want to work effectively with the Home Office, we want genuine students and do not object to robust systems being implemented to ensure the quality of providers. However, in return we'd like to see more transparency, understanding and level playing field shown to all Tier 4 sponsors.
There does seem to be on occasion a lack of understanding shown by the Home Office to students looking to pursue a vocational programme; this has manifested itself through inconsistent decisions around applications and a lack of clarity around the particular nature of the FE sector.
It is essential that we all get the message out that the UK is very much 'open for business' to genuine students and that they are very welcome in our FE colleges. A key role of AoC India is working with both domestic and Indian stakeholders to help make sure that the UK college offer is better understood to help support informed decisions from Home Office officials.
How do UK FE colleges find foreign students
We have a well-earned reputation for excellence and a number of students will look to a UK qualification as a quality mark. Colleges will work directly with students and partner institutions. This can include validating part of overseas partners' programmes allowing international students to study for part of their course in the UK. They will also find links through key stakeholders such as the British Council, UKTI and UKIBC.
A number of colleges will work with reputable agents who help them to link with potential students. Increasingly, colleges are looking to utilise new technology to help contact them with potential students.
What about the other way -are there opportunities for British FE colleges abroad If so, where
It is essential that international partnerships are conducted in the spirit of mutual respect and benefit. FE colleges are extremely committed to conducting international activity in the 'right way' -this includes looking to work in a country on medium and long term programmes. Colleges work on a wide range of different international programmes and activities, including; developing mutually productive content and curriculum partnerships with overseas vocational educational training providers, providing and supporting teacher training programmes, approaches to dynamic leadership and effective governance structures, delivering bespoke programmes, English as a Foreign Language courses, expertise in approaches to embedding and measuring quality, curriculum development and capacity building.
Tell us a little about AoC in India. What do you offer and what are your plans
AoC in India is a partnership of 33 UK FE colleges established through the Association of Colleges. AoC represents UK's FE college sector and its three million learners. AoC in India will bring the quality and experience of the UK's FE colleges to India by offering professional support and solutions including in the following areas; support and consultancy in skills training and development, high quality Industry-led programmes, higher education qualifications and University access courses, bespoke training programmes , train the trainer, English language teaching, approaches to leadership and embedding quality. AoC in India's partner colleges reflect the best practice of the UK FE college sector and will act as a meeting place for UK and Indian Skills providers.
AoC in India will bring the quality and experience of the UK's FE colleges to India by offering professional support and solutions.
Which relationships in India have been most valuable for you
All our Indian partners have offered a huge amount of support and value for AoC in India. We are very committed to taking a partnership driven approach that adds real value to the Indian skills landscape and to successfully do this we need to work closely with Indian partners.
NSDC have played a crucial role in introducing us to Indian skills providers and have highlighted the Indian government's priorities in their ambitious Skills Strategy. FICCI and CII have helped us to gain an overview of the Indian skills landscape and have helped facilitate sector to sector meetings that have allowed us to establish close links with Indian industry and training providers. We greatly appreciate our partners' enthusiasm to work with us and this has greatly helped our work in establishing an office in India.
NSDC have played a crucial role in introducing us to Indian skills providers and have highlighted the Indian government's priorities in their ambitious Skills Strategy.
What are the key factors in your opinion to grow the British FE presence abroad Are there challenges holding Britain back
We have a fantastic offer and an approach that allows us to meet international partners' needs. However, we need to strive to make sure we are capturing and explaining our offer to overseas providers and stakeholders. The UK offer needs to be carefully and clearly branded, and any misconceptions or concerns arising from issues around student visas are challenged and explained. We also need to make sure we are working in a joined up way, both as a sector and with other UK stakeholders including the UK government and British Council. A lot of international opportunities are linked to scale and we need to, as a sector, provide the mechanism through which Colleges can both source opportunities and combine resources. We hope that AoC in India will help explain our offer and help position colleges to best support Indian partners.
And finally, why attend a conference such as EIC2013 What do you hope to gain from it
It's a great opportunity to catch up with the wider education sector, gain insights and updates from key stakeholders, network with delegates and start to build relationships that lead to long term partnerships.
The above article was published in India Inc′s Print edition of India Investment Journal launched on October 2013 in conjunction with Education Investment Conclave.
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