DG: It was in 1974, in a five-room basement in south-west London. I was a maths tutor, and I was teaching a private student whose parents had a basement that was not being used, so I turned it into a college. You couldn’t do that now, you just wouldn’t get the students. But in those days things were more relaxed.
The PIE: What happened when the location was no longer suitable?
DG: We moved to West Kensington where I bought a house. I didn’t know much about law in those days and you’re not allowed to open a college in a house, so the council tried to close us down. Thankfully we managed to eventually beat the council and carry on running it.
We then moved to a bigger location in South Kensington. Over the next twenty years, we expanded to fill seven different Victorian houses there; our college filled one building after another. It was eventually clear in 1995 that the buildings were no longer suitable.
We found our next premises near Notting Hill station, where we developed our Foundation and Higher National Diploma programs. After two decades those buildings were getting old and tired, so we moved to our current location.
The Jewry Street building was a fantastic challenge to renovate and took an investment of about £6 million, but it is four times larger than our Notting Hill building. Our Foundation college, English school, and A-Level school are all within it.
The PIE: Where did your earliest students come from?
DG: One was an English girl who had already gone to university but decided to go back and do her O-Levels again because she wanted to change to medicine. Now she is a doctor in America, so that was a great success.
Another was an American film director who was here with his children. He couldn’t get his children into school so he brought them with him to the basement and we taught them also – it was very unusual.
My students then were mainly from Malasia and Iran – most of my students were from abroad in those days. There were not so many strict regulations about students coming into the country; you just gave them a letter and they came in.
“We have been trying to lobby in the House of Commons to make the government see the error of its ways because the regulations are killing off business”
The PIE: How do student visa regulations affect you now?
DG: Now it’s really tough. The government has changed the whole climate. If a student should disappear or refuse to get a visa, the college is blamed.
Of course, the government had to do something about immigration, I’m not saying they didn’t. But Theresa May has even been criticised by her own government for counting foreign students as immigrants, when in fact they are not because they leave at the end of their studies.
I know that five or ten years ago there were lots of students coming to the UK to attend low fee bogus colleges, but now they have made the rules far too strict.
The PIE: How have these rules impacted your international students?
DG: Well, part-time work is banned for international students. The head of my marketing department started as my student. If she hadn’t been able to work in a café while studying, I wouldn’t have her here today.
Students are allowed to work if they are at a university, but not if they are at a school like ours because the government thinks it deprives local people of jobs. I don’t think it does because the jobs my students would do – like waiting tables and cleaning – many English people won’t do.
We have been trying to lobby in the House of Commons to make the government see the error of its ways because the regulations are killing off business.
The PIE: Is Brexit having an impact on your student numbers?
DG: I think Brexit is an extraordinary case of being short-sighted. It’s going to be tough if you want to welcome students to the UK because universities all over the world are running courses in English. People are choosing to go to Holland to study because it is much cheaper than here.
Our universities and colleges are going to suffer because there is so much negativity about foreign students. I think we should be inside Europe, doing our best to inform it.
“One of my main theories is to do many different things at once, you have to be broad-ranging to succeed”
We now have more British students coming to the college so we don’t depend on international students. but [international students] are a very valuable contribution, as they are in most universities.
The PIE: Have the recent delays in granting visas affected you?
DG: We have lost a number of students who wanted to come here to study and spend lots of money, but couldn’t because of visa delays. Our students from Qatar or Russia, for example, they don’t want to wait a month [for their visas].
We have to be very careful when enrolling students. We have Skype interviews with them, they need to deposit [several thousand pounds] in a bank for a month. They have to be genuinely interested in the course and serious about their studies.
But when we give the student a letter of admission, it sometimes happens that the government misreads the admission letter and the student is refused.
The government thinks it’s covered it by a judicial review, but that can take up to nine months. If a student wants to study in September, they don’t want to wait nine months fiddling about.
The PIE: Where do most of your students come from?
DG: The college is made up of about 60% British 40% overseas students. But most of our British students are of Arabic or Asian origin.
We have a very wide mix of students. About 20 years ago we had a fantastic surge in Chinese student numbers, but it is much more spread out now.
It’s not just our students who are [like the] United Nations, but our staff as well. My senior staff members come from eight different countries. Our head of maths is Pakistani and he is a genius. I think British people teach in a much more discursive way.
The PIE: How do you recruit your students?
DG: We have several international students coming over for our open day and we do a lot of advertising and marketing online.
We also visit student fairs but the problem with those is that schools send children who are about ten years too young. They come in, sweep up all the literature and we never hear from them again – those fairs are not the most successful for us.
The best fairs are the agent workshops when you meet by prior appointment a whole succession of agents. We have been to ones in Frankfurt, Moscow and we are sending a representative to one in the Ukraine next month.
“Our universities and colleges are going to suffer because there is so much negativity about foreign students. I think we should be inside Europe, doing our best to inform it”
The PIE: Are there plans to expand further?
DG: You could say we have expanded in two different directions. One was geographical – we have a school in Pakistan and a flagship school in Bath.
Secondly, we have expanded thematically by doing things like drama and film. Our film school is debating a project in Egypt, but I am more cautious about new ventures these days.
Next we are looking to start a boarding school here. We get many young students from overseas, and their parents want them to have a safe, full board environment. So we are liaising with Ofsted as to all the regulations to try and get full board accommodation within the next year.
The PIE: The college has been going strong for 43 years, what do you put your success down to?
DG: One of my main theories is to do many different things at once – you have to be broad-ranging to succeed. I am good at finding the right people for things. That, and having the brilliant interventional advice from good friends and staff.