Internationalisation of our colleges is not an academic nicety but a fundamental necessity, and there are many ways to do it, says Tracy Ferrier.
A lot of attention has been given recently to the challenges faced by UK colleges delivering large commercial contracts overseas. While some of this negative attention may be understandable, the danger is that it will put other colleges off enabling staff and students to reap the significant benefits of internationalisation.
Globally, the challenges faced by governments and skills stakeholders are strikingly common. The need to engage employers in training, to close the gap between education and industry standards, and to develop soft and technical skills – these issues matter in Kerala as they do in Kettering.
Internationalisation of vocational education means coming together to share best practice and tackle big challenges globally. It is also about responding to the increasing mobility of learners and attracting them to UK education and training.
But internationalism goes even further: it is also about instilling in the minds of learners a broad and empathetic understanding of a range of cultures, languages and contexts.
As the UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon said: “Education is about more than literacy and numeracy, it is also about citizenry.”
The diversity of different approaches provides a richer educational experience and is vital for preparing our learners not just for global work, but for global life.
I am reminded of a memorable conversation from a few years ago. I was lucky to meet a student from a college in Scotland, following her return from a vocational exchange opportunity in Dubai. She was enthused by her time abroad, proud of what she had achieved and referred to the exchange as a “life-changing” experience.
Diversity is vital for preparing learners for global life
Whatever the degree of personal transformation in the long term, it had clearly had an impact on her confidence and motivation. When she shared her story with fellow students, her message, saying “if I can do this, I can do anything, and so can you”, was very empowering. For me, this sums up the power of internationalisation.
We at the British Council know that various colleges in the UK have been involved in the successful delivery of all sorts of overseas commercial contracts and partnership projects in many different countries. This is a good thing but not necessarily the right approach for all colleges.
There are many different ways for colleges to work internationally, some which require very little investment and are low-risk, such as hosting visits, job shadowing and exchanges.
These all provide the opportunity to share ideas and best practice with counterparts from overseas and can provide a platform to build longlasting and profitable relationships.
The increased focus on combating extremism and radicalisation of young people, in particular the Prevent duty, has thrown intercultural challenges into sharp focus. Internationalisation is a key tool in building mutual respect and tolerance.
Harmful attitudes can dissolve on contact but simply learning about other cultures within training will produce significant gains. By fostering an open-minded, tolerant and curious environment we can supplement technical learning with skills on which employers and societies place a high premium.
There are a range of tools to aid internationalisation, such as college partnership opportunities, leadership exchanges and mobility opportunities for staff and students, to mention a few. Sometimes though, it is as simple as taking the time to think about how those in your position in a different culture and context are working, teaching or learning.
Looking at a map, exploring the Internet or sharing a technique used in a different country related to the learning programme can all spark innovation and make you view your own world differently.
Those at our colleges and training providers will be working alongside a range of cultures and using techniques learned from all over the world in the future.
Internationalisation of our colleges and curricula is not an academic nicety but a fundamental necessity. Let’s give our young people a head start.
Tracy Ferrier is global skills lead for the British Council