International partnerships are vital to bring out the best in FE, says Amarjit Basi, Principal of New College Nottingham, in a comment on a recent speech by the chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Michael’s advice that colleges should “worry more about Deptford not Delhi” have provoked a diverse range of views. As an FE college that is sponsoring a new venture in Delhi, it inspires us to explain how international partnerships enable us to link to our community diaspora, and to extend educational opportunity to our students.

Like Delhi, Nottingham is young, ambitious, innovative and cosmopolitan. Once famous for lace and other manufacturing, it is now 84 per cent service-based, re-creating itself around the international knowledge. And some of
Nottingham’s fastest growing and most successful small businesses come from our Indian community.

Delhi, the largest commercial centre in northern India, has economic growth of about 11 per cent a year. Like Nottingham, it has a strong dependency on the service sector, and a shared recognition that advanced
manufacturing, clean technologies and entrepreneurship underpin further and sustainable future growth.

Report after report from major research organisations, such as the OECD, the McKinsey Institute, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), focus on the changing profile of international research and development (R&D), education, training and learning. The WEF, for example, expect that within five years, about 30 per cent of multinational companies will locate more than a quarter of their R&D in emerging economies.

As China, India and Brazil flex their R&D muscles, and innovative approaches to learning gather pace, such as mobile learning technologies and new Internet strategies, not being involved in international vocational developments risks cutting off the flow of ideas from some of the most dynamic economies in the world.

It is these economies that in 20 years will be recognised as setting the standard for educational innovation and R&D. According to a report from McKinsey, India and China alone are expected to swell the global graduate workforce by a net 184 million over the next two decades, providing two-thirds of the world’s increase in science and engineering graduates – with India, in particular, likely to produce a surplus of high-skill workers.

So we must look outward. International initiatives need to bring the best of educational practice within reach of each college’s local community, and enhance their capacity to deliver high quality outcomes for their learners and communities.

Indeed, current and planned reforms of our educational system stress that for too long we have been inward-looking, and that standards that do not take account of international benchmarks sell our young people short.

The IPPR report ‘Oceans of Innovation: The Atlantic, the Pacific, Global Leadership and the Future of Education’ (2012) offers a way forward. It argues that the pace of worldwide innovation is now such that in the future ‘everyone has to think like an entrepreneur’. This crucially links trends in worldwide R&D and the accompanying innovation spin-offs with the need for entrepreneurial learning.

We must seek out the best educational practice across the world, with a conscious strategy of cross-fertilisation of ideas and innovation. The race to the top for our students depends upon academic and vocational excellence, but will be differentiated by those individuals, communities and economies that demonstrate entrepreneurial mindsets. Only through this will our students benefit from the best ideas from across the world, and be supported to compete in the world market for skilled labour.

Curiosity, creativity and connectivity are king in a world where innovation and enterprise have become watchwords for economic success.

As a founding member of the Gazelle Colleges Group, we are committed to playing a pivotal role connecting to global labour markets and innovation networks. In our case, this means working in partnership with local employers and entrepreneurs – many with global presence (Experian, Alliance Boots, Speedo, Rolls-Royce and Capital One) – to support our students to realise their personal aspirations and to prosper when they emerge into a global labour market.

We are planning to open a vocational centre in Delhi to support the much-needed development of intermediate and higher level vocational and technical skills in India’s rapidly growing construction and service economy. It will also allow us to improve teaching, learning and training in Nottingham and to better prepare learners for the global marketplace.

We must actively interact with and measure ourselves against the rest of the world to enable this nation’s students to win ‘the race to the top’. In this way, we believe that we will enhance our students’ transition to meaningful employment, support business growth and contribute to community well-being.

The race to the top is as critical in Deptford as it is in Delhi.