Providers have hit back at claims that establishing new learner ventures in Saudi Arabia as part of the Colleges of Excellence (CoE) scheme might lead to “bankruptcy”.

It was reported last week in Education Investor and by FE Week that bosses of the scheme were struggling to get the number of learners they expected after attracting providers such as Lincoln College, Moulton College and Activate Learning to sign up to multi-million pound deals.

And while UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) Education, which was responsible for bringing together consortia to bid for the contracts, conceded CoE had “encountered challenges,” providers defended their involvement.

Activate Learning, an education group that includes Banbury and Bicester College, City of Oxford College and Reading College, signed up to the CoE programme as part of the Oxford Partnership, a consortium with GEMS Education Solutions and Moulton College.

Sally Dicketts, chief executive of Activate Learning (pictured above), said: “The Oxford Partnership entered into the agreement with CoE recognising that it would be a long-term investment.

“We remain fully committed to our colleges in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which also represent a social investment in empowering women and equipping them with the skills required to access meaningful employment.”

Interserve, an international support services and construction group, acquired the Employment and Skills Group, a UK-based provider of vocational training, skills and employability services that had signed up to CoE, at the end of last year.

An Interserve spokesperson said: “We deliver a range of educational services for our client, CoE. We are pleased with the progress we have made and recently opened a new state-of-the-art technical college for CoE.

“More than 1,500 young Saudi people — the majority of whom are female — attend our colleges where they are prepared for their future careers. We are proud to be part of CoE’s forward looking programme and remain committed to it.”

Although the projects were thought to be providing new revenue streams for an increasingly cash-strapped domestic college sector, such ventures have not been without their critics. Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw, for instance, once urged colleges to focus on “Deptford not Delhi,” as previously reported by FE Week.

A UKTI spokesperson said: “While the CoE programme has encountered challenges, the UK providers are working with UKTI and CoE to ensure the success of the programme.

“UKTI continues to support the Saudi government’s ambitions to broaden and improve Technical and Vocational Education and Training provision in the country.”

Pearson and North Hertfordshire College have declined to comment. Highbury College, Moulton College, Nescot, Lincoln College, Hertvec and CoE did not respond.

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  1. Sally Dicketts, chief executive of Activate Learning from The Oxford Partnership:

    How about empowering your staff by paying them and treating them as professionals

    TOP – poor pass rates and student attendance, inaccurate attendance data, demoralised staff, unhappy Saudi students and staff – rapidly reported to Saudi labour office.

    Substance not superficial speak please.