A delegation of college principals set off to India in January last year to assess opportunities for delivering FE in a burgeoning foreign market. They marked the opening of the AoC India office in Delhi, and John Mountford looks at what’s been happening there since.

The UK’s FE colleges are ideally placed to add real value to India’s training requirements as it continues to develop as one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies.

In January 2013 AoC India was launched in Delhi by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock and Dilip Chenoy, chief executive of the Indian National Skills Development Corporation.

Thirty three colleges agreed to work in partnership to establish FE’s first UK sector-wide overseas office. The ambitions of the partnership were to promote, represent and support UK FE colleges in India; to develop business opportunities; to establish a base that allows colleges to build mutually beneficial partnerships; to build consortiums that help to ‘scale up’ the UK college offer to better meet the needs of the Indian market; to act as a springboard for colleges looking to enter India for the first time; and, to explain and articulate the UK college offer to Indian partners.

As we are now more than halfway through the partnership’s initial two-year period it seems timely to reflect on progress against these early ambitions.

Without doubt, the UK college brand is now better recognised by key Indian partners, in part due to the signing of a number of strategic allegiances with key organisations such as both the Federation and Confederation of Indian Industries.

AoC India has also established strong links with partners in the Indian government, including the Ministry of Human Resource Development as they work on developing their new national FE college sector.

AoC India has also joined forces with UK government-led initiatives in the Indian market. This has included being invited to join both Prime Ministerial and ministerial-led delegations. A number of colleges have successfully bid for joint UK and Indian government funding through the UK India Education Research Initiative.

AoC India has also established a strategic partnership with the UK India Business Council (UKIBC), the agency specifically charged with promoting UK business interests in India. AoC India acts as a forum to bring the partner colleges together
which is, in turn, promoting more collaborative, sector-wide solutions to meeting the challenges of the Indian
market.

We are also seeing college consortiums and individual colleges beginning to develop business in the Indian market. Exeter College has established a Beyond Borders programme in partnership with Accent International (UK) and Bring Spring (India) that aims to develop and pilot a range of vocational and English skills development programmes to be used by trainees both here and India.

Burton and South Derbyshire College, in partnership with Highbury College, UKIBC, Lavasa Corporation and Manipal City and Guilds (the latter two are both in India) are working on developing an intensive Train the Trainer programme in the construction and unarmed security guard sectors. While Vision West Nottinghamshire College is establishing a construction training centre in the Punjab and Bournville College is opening a campus in Kolkata.

Despite these early successes, it is important to acknowledge that the Indian skills market is not an easy one to crack. It demands effort, patience and a long-term approach; the commercial models aren’t always obvious and turning a market presence into viable business opportunities is not always straightforward.

Through the introduction of Student Visas it is increasingly difficult to recruit Indian students into the UK which removes a valuable revenue stream for colleges. It can be hard to balance the difficulties of the Indian market while also contending with a challenging domestic agenda. AoC India needs to ensure that it strives to fully support its members as they navigate this complicated landscape.

AoC India colleges can be proud of their early achievements and the effort they have put in. Even if the rewards aren’t always immediate we have to acknowledge the very special opportunity that this work affords our sector. Through this partnership we can make a major contribution to India’s future development while helping our colleges to access new and exciting business opportunities.

John Mountford, Association of Colleges international director