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UK: Small policy changes “key” for FE sector

Simple policy changes and support could be the key to unlocking the export potential of the UK’s FE colleges, a new survey by the AoC has shown.
March 2 2020
3 Min Read

Simple policy changes and support could be the key to unlocking the export potential of the UK’s further education colleges, a new survey by the Association of Colleges has revealed.

Designed to provide a stocktake of international work at colleges across England, among its findings, the AoC’s 2019 international survey revealed that international activity in colleges is “static” despite the fact that the global demand for skills training is rising.

“Some colleges are deterred from starting international work due to concerns over risk, cost and lack of experience,” the survey suggested.

Of the 61 colleges in total that responded to the survey, 80% are “actively involved” in international work, according to the AoC.

“It’s the right time to look at how this potential can be met as the UK leaves the EU”

However when asked whether colleges felt they had the right capacity and capability to deliver international work – regardless of whether they were already working internationally – just 46% of respondents said they had.

Some 41% of survey respondents agreed that if they had the right capacity and support, “they could deliver more and offer better training, programs and expertise sharing”.

“There is rising global demand for technical training as world economies develop their workforce, yet UK FE represents only 1.4% of British education exports,” the survey explained, adding that this compares to more than 15% from comparable sectors in Canada and Australia.

“As the UK leaves the EU it is more important than ever that colleges are empowered to be outward-facing and that the government prioritises technical and vocational education.”

The survey explained that policy and operational barriers exist for colleges currently trying to grow their global vocational training offer and recruit international students who contribute financially, academically and culturally to college communities.

AoC noted that very little centralised data exists on international activity in colleges and no formal mechanism exists to capture this information.

It explained that the survey aims to fill the gap by showing that colleges are undertaking a whole host of activities, in a broad range of countries.

Highlighting the breadth of the sector’s future export potential, the survey revealed that colleges are involved in over 15 different types of international activity.

Student recruitment took the top activity spot; 76% of respondents said they recruit Tier 4 students, with European student recruitment (70%) and short-term study recruitment (68%) following closely behind.

Some 64% of colleges said they were involved in the Erasmus+ program, while the number of colleges engaging in vocational training overseas is also taking “a step in the right direction”, according to the AoC.

The survey also showed that colleges provide clear pathways to higher-level study:  61% of respondents said over 75% of their international students progress into higher education.

To ensure that colleges are ready to deliver on the government’s international education strategy and meet the demand for skills training, the AoC said it is keen to work with the UK government to review and implement recommendations from the 2018/19 report.

These include lifting certain Tier 4 visa restrictions to allow FE international student numbers to grow and developing mechanisms to capture quantitative and qualitative data on international work in colleges.

“It is more important than ever that colleges are empowered to be outward-facing”

“Despite over 10 years of a difficult visa and financial environment, UK colleges have continued to provide great opportunities overseas and excellent learning experiences on campus for international students. Although, as this survey shows, there is potential to do so much more,” said AoC International director, Emma Meredith.

“It’s the right time to look seriously at how this potential can be met as the UK leaves the EU and the new points-based immigration system brings significant change to how the economy and businesses tackle skills gaps.

“AoC seeks to work with the government to take up our recommendations, enabling colleges to meet the growing need for vocational training overseas, to offer enriching cultural and learning programs like Erasmus and to boost the UK’s skills sector,” Meredith added.

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