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Matthew Anderson, Executive Director, TVET UK

MA: We had a deal with a Kazakh college that trained students deemed not good enough for a Kazakh university. They studied a BTEC-style course with intensive English language, passed, and are now taking a UK BA [undergraduate degree] in Business Studies, splitting their time between the UK and Kazakhstan for study. Who will be the better prepared in the global marketplace? The UK degree holder or the one who went to the Kazakh university?

"Individual colleges, universities, schools and suppliers will typically never get near the decision makers in places like Turkmenistan"

The PIE: It sounds as if you are working with some really interesting countries.
MA: Turkmenistan, that is really interesting. There is no mobile phone coverage there as they have no roaming agreement! All their engineers are getting old as they were trained in the Soviet days and they need training in techniques for extracting different oil and gas; important for the prosperity of the country. We have skills to offer and can provide on-the-job training.

“They have aid money, often oil revenues and a new entrepreneurial class”

I have also been to Iraq, most of Central Asia, Syria, Algeria and most of the Middle East. Never be afraid of the newsworthy countries! We are actively targeting South Sudan, Yemen, Burma and Libya in the coming year.

The PIE: Anything else in the pipeline?
MA: Huge amounts that means we will double and triple our current success rate in the coming months. I have mentioned these newsworthy countries, they are all great markets for us. They have aid money, often oil revenues and a new entrepreneurial class.

The PIE: How much revenue have you achieved for UK PLC via deals that TVET has been instrumental in brokering?
We estimate that we have brought in £20 million via deals that meant new business for 40 plus companies. In Kazakhstan, one project via one college was worth over £1 million with hundreds of students coming to the UK every year. We are changing people’s lives and making the UK money.

The PIE: Who are the members of TVET?
MA: 50% of members are FE [further education] colleges. There are about 300 in the UK and I would say 40-60 are internationally active; 20-30 of them seriously so. And another 20 maybe dabble.

It’s a really immature market and we need a cultural shift, particularly in FE, to deal with global customers. We have about 75 members. The rest are made up of equipment suppliers, training providers, ELT schools, awarding bodies, sector skills councils; so you see we really have everything covered.

“It’s a really immature market and we need a cultural shift, particularly in FE, to deal with global customers”

The PIE: Do you often work with the British Council?
MA: Sometimes. Although they have a very different role to us. We are focused solely on commercial contracts which often include equipment, curriculum language etc… We work through the British embassies and high commissions.

The PIE: Why do you think it is important to champion British vocational exports overseas?
MA: It is a hugely important sector and a major contributor to building soft power for the UK. Many developing countries need access to skills, we have the best skills system in the world, we just need to sell it better. I think the government is starting to realise they have a product that can fly off the shelves globally, and we hope for a little more support from them in what we are doing because we are making it a reality on our own.

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