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Hancock urges UK FE sector to export offshore

In a combative exchange of views this week at the Association of Colleges (AoC) International Conference, Minister for Skills and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock MP, challenged the FE colleges present not to use difficulties with the visa system as an excuse for not being able to invest in delivery of education and training in-country.

Minister for Skills and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock, observed that with UKIP's election success, the immigration system has to "command respect of the public"

"I'll do you a deal - "I'll take back [to government] the visa point if you don't use it as an excuse not to go out there and make the most of opportunities"

“I’ll do you a deal,” he told delegates after a series of college directors explained to him that it was hard to leverage more funds for international activities when it seemed to be getting harder to recruit internationals into the UK.

“I’ll take back [to government] the visa point if you don’t use it as an excuse not to go out there and make the most of opportunities.”

Various invited speakers used the event to speak to the FE audience about the importance and opportunity for exporting skills training. Chair, Norman Cave, Chief Executive of Bourneville College, opened the conference by observing the developing nations recognise that it is skills, not degrees, that build their economies.

For the colleges present, all of which specialise in skills training, EFL and delivering a range of qualifications that can be studied up to equivalent of degree level, this was welcome news.

Developing nations recognise that it is skills, not degrees, that build their economies

However, many speakers focused on the opportunity as being offshore, including Emily Ashwell, Managing Director of UKTI Education and Maddalaine Ansell from BIS, both noting the successful UK bids in developing Colleges of Excellence in Saudi Arabia which has generated over UK£1 billion for the UK.

Hancock was in bullish mood, when facing a frustrated crowd. “Export is far far more than the movement of individual people,” he countered. “With half a billion people, the best place to cater for the Indian market is in India.”

He acknowledged a sentiment that the FE sector feels like it sometimes has second class status given varying operating conditions and had to listen to delegates urging that an impression of a difficult visa system is damaging even if this is not the reality.

“I don’t know whether you saw the last elections?” he said, nodding to the anti-immigration UKIP party’s success in the recent European and local elections.

“We have to have an immigration system that bears the trust of the public and there is an inevitable clash.”

He continued, “There is not a necessary link between taking students here and working abroad.”

Speakers did acknowledge, nevertheless, that a consortia-approach to enabling opportunities abroad is often required and Ashwell urged AoC members to join workshops and reach out to the export promotion unit for help in assessing and accessing opportunities. She added that costs could be shared as they had been done by the ELT Working Group which has carried out a working analysis into Kazakhstan.

“There is not a necessary link between taking students here and working abroad”

This group, chaired by Tony Millns, ex-CEO of English UK and with representation from companies such as Pearson, Cambridge English, British Council, was formed to help evolve an industrial strategy for international education.

Dame Asha Kemka, Chief Executive of Vision West Nottinghamshire College and heading up the AoC India business, was also in attendance to explain how using an Indian base can help FE colleges embed their business in India. “International is medium to long-term,” she urged delegates, explaining that the business is still at a nascent phase despite “break-even” pilot schemes in operation.

An MoU has been signed with the Confederation of Indian Industries, grant funding from UKIERI was obtained and a roadshow in Rajasthan is being planned for October.

The full conference programme also saw members educated about the opportunities that Erasmus+ presents and on how to navigate the education agency market and conduct thorough analysis and focus on specialist strengths when embarking on international recruitment.

 Manjeet Kumari Lal, Head of International at Walsall College, impressed other delegates as she explained how detailed analysis and market segmentation had enabled her to build her international intake from 40 to 500 students within four years. “A-levels are not always the best route for students from MINT countries who wish to become economic migrants,” she counselled, adding that UKTI Education were a useful source of relevant contacts overseas.

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