Challenges facing international departments of FE colleges were discussed at the inaugural meeting of a new group launched at English UK's annual conference.
The focus group is for state colleges with an international department that are either members of English UK or of the Association of Colleges (AoC). The idea is for them to meet twice a year, sharing ideas, opportunities and support. There will be another meeting at the AoC's International Conference in London on Thursday 9 June.
"We thought about business development, capacity development, training, and possibly the formation of trans-national education consortia," said English UK deputy chief executive Huan Japes, introducing the session. "We also think it could be an ideas-sharing group with opportunities for networking, sharing best practice, perhaps some lobbying. Longer-term, there could be some strategic development and perhaps some CPD."
Janette Donjon, director of international development at Sunderland College, said she thought there was much to be gained from EFL for all FE colleges, and said it would be useful to consider the benefits of an English UK/AoC group: "We as a group benefit from the strength of the English UK data: the student statistics data we're now getting is great to put into a three-year business plan."
She said the FE sector was not good at data, and it would help if a way could be found to improve what was provided for English UK's statistics. She added: "I think our partnership has great potential: how we drive that forward? What do we want it to do?"
Sarah Cooper, incoming chief executive of English UK and dean of management and professional studies at South Thames College, said: "There are lots and lots of opportunities for international growth and sharing is the key to that. If we start sharing and seeing each other as collaborators in trying to get business there are huge opportunities and colleges are well-placed to take advantage of that. We keep hearing about all the business opportunities there are: is that the kind of thing your colleges have got the appetite for?"
John Mountford, international director of the AoC, said the debate in the FE sector was currently all about apprenticeships, raising questions about international work. "There are lots of principals ringing up asking, how can we diversify? For every challenging conversation, there's one about the advantages. If there is a coalition of the willing in place, we can feed through opportunities," he said. He thought a joint group could lobby the Home Office more effectively on damage being caused by immigration policies, and capture more useful data. "It would be a very positive step," he said.
In a wide-ranging discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing the sector, the importance of data came up several times as a way of persuading college principles to pay more attention to the benefits of international students.
Sarah Cooper, pointing out that FE budgets had been slashed, said that data was key. If it was possible to show that revenue was coming in, in some case with no marketing spend, "imagine what we could do if we tried." She suggested the group might pool creative and cost-effective marketing strategies. John Mountford said agents were often surprised to discover the FE sector, and in particular its twin benefits of affordability and being surrounded by native speakers.
Join the debate
To find out more about the new group, join us from 09:00 - 09:50 on Thursday 9 June just before the opening of the AoC International Conference at 99 City Road Conference Centre, London EC1Y1AX or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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