John Mountford, AoC international director, defends colleges’ foreign recruitment

In recent weeks criticism has been levelled at colleges for their hugely beneficial work abroad.

This very paper reported a turn of phrase by Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, which appeared to question the benefits of FE’s international work.

In his speech to an AoC conference, Sir Michael challenged colleges to consider whether international work was being sought at the expense of the local community and quality improvement or, as it was phrased, Deptford not Delhi.

I think it is important to answer that challenge – and the public should be assured that both from quality and strategic perspectives there are plenty of reasons why colleges should embrace and develop their international work.

It is by working with Delhi that you can give learners the education they need to be successful in Deptford.

Colleges have a long and successful tradition of developing programmes that meet the needs of local and national partners. It therefore makes sense to use the skills and experience we have gained from this work and export our world class FE system to international partners.

These commercial opportunities allow colleges to develop programmes, generate income that allow them to run courses they wouldn’t normally run, hire local staff and purchase resources that they couldn’t normally purchase. It is a credit to the sector that we were asked to lead on the government’s FE Global Strategy.

To address the quality issue there is no known correlation between poor quality and international provision. A quick study of 20 colleges, all with sizable international operations, shows them to typically demonstrate grades of ‘good’ or better.

The proven benefits in internationalising the curriculum in a global skills market, coupled with the confidence working internationally brings to students and staff, has obviously benefited these colleges.

However, as I’m sure the chief inspector is aware, international provision sits outside the Ofsted remit and due to this gap a number of colleges have stepped forward to undergo a review of the quality of their international work to become AoC International Charter members.

The college sector knows that to be effective internationally you need to display a high commitment to quality. To suggest that we can take our eye off this essential element, when working with international partners and students, simply doesn’t make sense.

Colleges work with their local communities, to provide learners with meaningful skills and qualifications that allow them to be competitive and productive in the workplace or in their future studies. With this key mission in mind, it is important to acknowledge that we live and work in a globalised environment, where technology and industry have radically changed. It is one that needs a fluid, high-skilled and internationally competitive workforce.

In this technologically driven age it seems both outdated and out of touch to start questioning whether colleges should be taking an international perspective”

A large number of students will have jobs that are directly linked with multinational companies. Colleges’ international work goes a long way to provide an environment where learners can start to gain these skills.  It is by working internationally that we can inspire our learners to think internationally and show them how they can develop and grow from their local communities.

Shouldn’t we be applauding colleges who have the ambition and strategic vision to work together to establish a UK Colleges office in Delhi; isn’t it a credit to the sector that we have been asked to lead on the government’s FE Global Strategy?

The income generated from international projects and initiatives helps develop the quality and resources for all our provision and grows our sector’s worldwide reputation.

In this technologically driven age it seems both outdated and out of touch to start questioning whether colleges should be taking an international perspective – a more pertinent question would be how we can do more.

We should strive to remember and celebrate the great benefits overseas students and partnerships bring to all our colleges and home students’ experience – in fact the real headline should be ‘Delhi for Deptford’.