Colleges  could be at risk of focusing on international opportunities to the detriment of home-grown learners, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has warned.

The former head teacher and executive principal spoke  on the dangers of foreign recruitment in FE at a conference organised by the Association of Colleges (AoC).  His remarks came in  an  introductory speech  to around 160 delegates at the event, held on Monday last week at Prospero House, London Bridge.

Conference-goers, who were banned from live tweeting, later told FE Week that the chief inspector questioned the drive of colleges to increase their intakes from abroad, questioning whether the focus should be on “Deptford not Delhi”.

They also told FE Week, which was subject to a press ban for the event, that Sir Michael spoke of supporting colleges in their concerns over inspections.

His warning on looking abroad came just five months after former FE Minister John Hayes launched the FE Global Strategy.

The AoC had played a key role in developing the strategy at the request of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

It’s clear to us that colleges are businesses and they need to be business-like”

In December, BIS said in its New Challenges, New Chances report: “Although currently higher education is by far the largest export market, there is significant emerging demand and potential for technician and higher level vocational skills, which are widely recognised as essential to sustain balanced economic growth.

“Further education exports are already valued at £1 billion a year.”

The report added: “We want to ensure that FE is in the strongest possible position to take advantage of these opportunities and punch its weight internationally.”

And even the AoC itself has taken a lead on capitalising on foreign potential with its move to create an India Office for recruitment on behalf of subscribing colleges.

But Joy Mercer, AoC policy director, defended moves abroad.

“It’s clear to us that colleges are businesses and they need to be business-like if they are to effectively deliver quality to their students,” she said.

“The government’s report called for a global education strategy that’s very much about providing opportunities to our students and our colleges on an international stage.

“For colleges that engage in international work there’s no evidence it diminishes the quality of education at the time of inspection.”

An Ofsted spokesperson declined FE Week’s request for a copy of Sir Michael’s speech.

However, Miss Mercer said she welcomed a commitment from Sir Michael to put FE inspections “on a level playing field” with those for schools.

“But we are disappointed this won’t happen until the new inspection framework for schools, in 2016,” she said.

“One such disadvantage against schools is the fact colleges’ data registers student retention levels, whereas schools don’t.”

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  1. Telling the truth

    Focus on ‘Deptford not Delhi’ is the correct approach.

    FE colleges are already trying to be jack of all trades by offering:
    – vocational education
    – higher education
    – ‘A’ levels
    – 14-16 education in partnership with schools
    – sponsoring academies
    – adult education

    In times of recession most businesses focus on doing core activities well and cease activities that are not cost effective. Most FE colleges need to do the same to avoid losses every year.

    British FE colleges exist for the local community, not the rest of the world. This is a tiny overcrowded country and there are plenty of young children who will be studying at an FE college in 3-15 years time.