Overseas students are flocking to United Kingdom further education colleges in the hope of gaining access to university and improving their English, writes Tony Tysome.
Latest figures compiled by the Education Counselling Service and the Learning and Skills Council indicate that further education could hit the government's target of 50,000 international students by 2005, three years ahead of schedule.
Statistics for England for 2000-01 show that there were just over 44,000 foreign students from non-EU countries taking further education courses - an increase of 21 per cent on the previous year. In Scotland there were 2,466 overseas students, also a 21 per cent rise.
The news means that further education has taken significant strides forward since prime minister Tony Blair launched his overseas recruitment campaign for colleges and universities in 1999. Two years ago, it seemed unlikely further education would reach the target.
David Green, director-general of the British Council, said: "These are extremely heartening figures. The prime minister's initiative set a target of 50,000 international further education students by 2005, and given year-on-year growth, we are highly likely to meet this figure at the end of this academic year."
An analysis by the British Council's education promotion arm, the ECS, revealed that the two key areas of study for international students in the UK's further education system are access to higher education courses and English-language courses.
Neil Kemp, ECS director of promotion and partnerships, said UK institutions should make more of the close links between further and higher education in their marketing overseas.
"We should make sure we market these access programmes more coherently in the same way that the Australians have," he said.
The countries where FE recruitment has grown fastest include China, up by 77 per cent to 4,4 students; Pakistan, up 23 per cent to 1,538; Turkey, with an increase of 14 per cent to 1,676; and India, up 5 per cent to 1,700.
Colleges also gained market share in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Russia.