An AoC charter for institutions hoping for a slice of the overseas market commits participants to ethical recruitment of foreign students. Tony Tysome reports.
Further education could be on the verge of significant expansion into lucrative overseas markets that until now have been dominated by universities.
Colleges are forging alliances with foreign institutions and are often bringing local companies with them to build training and trade agreements that are popular with foreign partners and governments. Such moves mark a shift from the traditional approach that has characterised colleges' and universities' overseas activities in the past.
The emphasis is no longer on recruiting full fee-paying students to study in the UK, with little prospect of student or staff exchanges. Colleges still want a share of that market, but they are increasingly seeking partnerships where the UK institution becomes involved in the social and economic needs of the region with which it is doing business.
This is the basis for a Charter for Excellence in International Education and Training, which the Association of Colleges will publish next week to coincide with the launch of the Government's new international education policy.
The charter, developed in collaboration with the British Council, commits participating colleges to take an "ethical approach to student recruitment" when operating in developing countries. Colleges will also be expected to work strategically with international partners "to learn from and share best practices with other countries". They should also embrace "the highest possible standards of quality and integrity in all aspects of work with international learners and partners".
The AoC hopes to persuade signatories to make four key commitments:
- To ensure that they have a management infrastructure in place to support international work
- To have a fully developed international strategy and development plan
- To assure the quality of services to international students and partners
- To guarantee an ethical and inclusive approach to international activities.
Jo Clough, the AoC's international director, says the charter aims to get colleges that are involved in or are about to enter the international market to focus on more than maximising the income they can raise from tuition fees ranging from £3,000 to £7,000 a year.
"We need to be helping colleges to be aware that this is not just an easy extra income stream. They have to have the proper infrastructure in place to support it. We cannot ignore the fact that the income from overseas students is very important, but we could shoot ourselves in the foot if we made too much of that," she says.
The AoC says that college involvement in the international market is growing, although no one is sure by how much because data are hard to come by.
In 2001-02, 200 colleges were engaged in overseas activities. An analysis commissioned by the British Council this year indicated that such activities are worth £620 million a year to the British economy.
Overseas students on UK further education courses are estimated to spend about £40 million a year on fees and £303 million on other goods and services. Franchised and private further education contributed £7 million to the economy.
The AoC hopes to find a way to ensure that all data are updated annually, to monitor the kind of international work colleges are involved in and to make a proper assessment of how this affects their work at home.
Clough says: "One of the things we have been concerned about is that there has been no connection between colleges' overseas work and the home-based further education policy regime. Beyond the Prime Minister's Initiative, there has been a complete absence of any international dimension in the policies of the Learning and Skills Council or the Government. We have been relying on the goodwill and individual efforts of colleges."
Further education has at least as much to offer overseas markets as higher education, she says, because colleges can forge alliances with local companies to offer training and consultancy packages to partners in developing nations where vocational education is a prime concern.
The idea of sharing best practice between further education partners in different countries has already been put into action by the Global College Network set up by Chichester College. The network's 11 member institutions in eight different countries maintain close links.
Michael Parris, Chichester's international operations manager, says there is "huge potential" for colleges to expand their overseas work using the partnership model. He adds that the AoC's charter should help institutions stay in control of their activities as they grow.
Some colleges are collaborating with universities to attract overseas students to the UK. Students who arrive without the right level of qualifications to enter higher education can enrol on a one-year foundation course such as that at City College, Brighton.
Graduates from this course are then qualified to apply for a place at Brighton, Middlesex, Nottingham Trent and Oxford Brookes universities, and University College Chichester.