A group of policy makers from India, Nepal, and Nigeria visit Derby College  ©

Photo credit: Alex Cantrill-Jones, ACJ Media

At the British Council it’s our job to promote a friendly knowledge and understanding between the UK and the rest of the world. In the 110 countries in which we work our staff are consistently asked about the role of UK Colleges as the growing youth population and rapidly changing nature of work means that Technical and Vocational Education and Training assumes ever more importance for citizens and their governments - everywhere.

The British Council is always inspired and encouraged by meeting college students from across the UK who say that an international experience has transformed their skills and confidence. For example, one said “my visit overseas has helped me to look at the world with different eyes. After the trip, I have found that I feel more confident, and I have a stronger willingness to finish my studies and to get a job”.

UK Colleges also do outstanding international work through forging partnerships with likeminded Colleges around the world. For example, an International Skills Partnership between West Lothian College and the Economic Planning Unit of Politeknik Ungku Omar, Carsem, Malaysia has focussed on enhancing vocational programmes and outcomes for learners through curriculum development driven by closer collaboration with employers. It has led to the development of a co-created, simplified and effective approach to supporting young people into work with learners integrated into the workplace prior to taking up employment. This has cut down the time spent in recruitment and selection, training and unsuccessful appointments, thus saving employers money.

A partnership between Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education and Arab Academy of Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT) in Egypt has improved quality across both organisations through visits and information sharing. The partnership benefited both sides. GIFHE assisted AASTMT to review quality systems and approaches to embed improvements in teaching, learning and assessment. In return, GIFHE gained a greater insight into logistics curriculum provision.

The brilliant international work that UK Colleges also really helps with key domestic priorities such as staff retention, CPD and improving learner outcomes. Our independent paper ‘Changing Lives’ authored by Iain McKinnon in 2017 showed that “Colleges themselves benefit too, in profit earned, in funding secured to cover costs, in better results and enhanced competitive advantage, in raised reputation and in deepening excellence”.

Too often we start conversations about Further Education in the UK from the perspective of what is wrong rather than what is right. Seeing the UK system and colleges through the eyes of Senior Policy makers from around the world is an inspiring privilege – and makes us at the British Council very proud of the UK’s Colleges.  

Occasionally, people argue that Colleges are local institutions and should focus on domestic matters rather than engaging internationally. This is to misunderstand how much international partnerships improve learner outcomes, create opportunities for funding and develop excellence. Since the British Council is a cultural relations organisation, I would add that the quality of our colleges gives us another opportunity to create people to people connections and build trust and attraction. We have been at the forefront of technical and vocational education since the Industrial Revolution and should be prepared to share our learning with countries who are just developing a skills system.  They can learn from our mistakes – and the many things we’ve got right.

The British Council International Beacon award has shown the outstanding global work being undertaken by Colleges from all across the UK and we want to thank the many colleges who have done great things for themselves and others.

The rest of the world loves our colleges. We should too.

Maddalaine Ansell, Director Education, British Council