WITH its lower cost of living, stunning scenery and lively cities within a few hours of London and Manchester, Wales is a magnet for international students.
Every year, more than 18,000 head to this “country within the country” of the United Kingdom.
But while most enrol in the world-class universities of Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor and Aberystwyth, a growing number are discovering its colleges.
These public sector institutions, like those in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, offer students a huge variety of qualifications and a lot of flexibility.
It is often cheaper to study at a British college than a university and the cost of living is generally lower in Wales than in the rest of the UK.
Students are usually taught in smaller groups and there are fewer international students, making it a more culturally-immersive experience. Rather that committing to a full three or four-year degree programme, it's possible to get a qualification in one or two years, then upgrade it to a bachelor degree if and when you want to do so.
Traditionally, colleges have specialised in vocational, technical and professional qualifications for 16-19-year-olds, with shorter, more flexible courses than you would find at university. But many colleges now work in partnership with universities to deliver degree programmes as well.
College can be an alternative to university but it can also it be a stepping stone - the first stage in a degree programme that starts in a college and is completed at university.
There are 15 colleges in Wales. Here are just some of the qualifications you could take at a Welsh college - or Coleg as it’s known in Welsh.
Wales is a bilingual nation and many people can speak Welsh, but everyone speaks English.
Whether you’re 16 or 60, want to get into university or improve your career opportunities, need an intensive summer school or a year-long course, wish to study general English or focus on business or legal English, you’ll find a suitable course at one of Wales's 15 colleges.
Cardiff and Vale College in the Welsh capital has a particularly wide choice and offers both IELTS and the highly respected Cambridge English language assessment programme. Coleg Gwent in Newport, near the English border, also has a large choice of English courses, all accredited by the British Council.
Most British pupils start this two-year academic programme at the age of 16 and it’s the traditional entry route to university in the UK. Universities around the world also accept the qualification. You can choose up to four subjects from a wide range such as maths, chemistry, business studies, accounting and history.
Pembrokeshire College offers A-level Plus for international students, with extra support of one hour per subject per week with your tutor. International students can also get eight hours extra English language per week to ensure they achieve the appropriate IELTS score for their university entry.
At Coleg y Cymoedd in Caerphilly county, 99% of students at the new A-level Centre passed their exams this year and in almost all subjects seven out of 10 students got the top grades (A* to C).
Most colleges require international students to have an IELTS score of 5.5 or above to study for A-levels.
This two-year course is an alternative to A-levels for students of high academic ability and is recognised in 140 countries worldwide.
At Coleg Llandrillo in north Wales, the pass rate last year was 95%, significantly above the world average of 78.5%. Students receive support with university applications for Oxbridge and competitive degrees such as law and medicine. Most colleges require and IELTS score of 6 or above.
BTEC, work-based learning, technical qualifications and courses tailored to businesses
BTEC stands for Business and Technology Education Council . These are vocational qualifications that can be taught from the age of 16 to degree-level equivalent and are recognised in over 100 countries and by a wide range of industries and companies. They are designed to give students deep, specialist, practical skills in different fields. For example, St David’s Catholic Sixth-form College in Cardiff offers BTECs in business studies, applied science, sports development & fitness, musical theatre and the performing arts.
BTEC courses at Cardiff and Vale College include accountancy, aeronautical engineering, fashion design, computer aided design and film & media. IT A BTEC generally takes one or two years. Students are assessed through real-work assignments and coursework, not exams.
Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND)
HNCs and HNDs are higher education quaifications that focus on “learning by doing” and give you skills you can use in a particular job.
An HNC usually takes one year full-time (often two years for engineering) and an HND two years.
Afterwards you can either go directly into employment in your chosen sector or top-up your qualification to a degree either at the same college or a university.
An HNC will generally allow you entry to the second year of an undergraduate degree course while an HND will give you entry to the second or third year.
Gower College Swansea is offering a new range of HNDs in partnership with both Swansea University and the University of Wales Trinity St Davids. These include advanced therapies and spa management, building services, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.
Coleg sir Gâr, a college with five campuses in south-west Wales, offers HNCs and/or HNDs and degree programmes in a wide range of subjects including electrical and mechanical engineering, construction management & technology, and business management.
International Foundation Programme
This course, which is also offered by several universities, is for international students who wish to progress to a degree in the UK but do not yet meet the required academic and/or English proficiency.
It is designed to give students the English and study skills they need to cope at a British university and give them an understanding of the cultural, business, legal and political environment in the UK.
Because the course includes English lessons, the required IELTS score is usually lower - around 4.5.
Students also usually focus on a particular subject. At Cardiff and Vale College the main focus is business, management and IT with intensive English and the course aims to prepare students for a degree-level course in a business-focussed subject.
At Gower College in Swansea (Wales’s second biggest city), students on the International Foundation Programme can choose from 11 subjects including art & design, business, law, nursing, science and health science. At NPTC (Neath Port Talbot College) in south Wales, the choice is between IT, business and engineering.
Some colleges have agreements in place with universities, which means that if you complete the programme you are guaranteed progression opportunites. NPTC, for example, has agreements in place with the universities of Swansea, Bangor, Aberystwyth, Cardiff Met, Glyndŵr, South Wales, Wales Trinity St David and Portsmouth.
Llandrillo Menai International, a group of three colleges in north Wales with 27,000 students on 14 campuses, has a close partnership with Bangor University. Its International Foundation Programme gives students an easy route into the university on completion.
Its Academic English Language Programme at advanced level is also accepted for progression to undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes at Bangor providing students already meet academic requirements.
Increasingly, colleges are providing undergraduate degree programmes.
Cardiff and Vale College is home to the award-winning International Cente for Aerospace Engineering which is next door to both Cardiff International Airport and the British Airways Maintenance Centre.
The college offers a range of aircraft maintenance and aircraft engineering qualifications including a full-time BSc in Aircraft Engineering. The course, which is popular with students from all over the world and taught mostly by experienced ex-Royal Air Force personnel, is run in partnership with the University of South Wales. As well as the degree content, it covers the work detailed in the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) category B1.1 aircraft maintenance engineering licence syllabus (part-66). It's possible to do this degree part-time through distance learning.
NPTC, also in south Wales, is particularly well placed for its BA in International Tourism and Event Managment. Not only is the college surrounded by stunning countryside and coastline but it is relatively close to the tourist meccas of London, Paris and Dublin. Students visit all these places as part of their degree. Students on NPTC's BA (Hons) Business management & IT programme, meanwhile, work on exciting assignments with small business owners in the Brecon Beacons, the beautiful nearby national park.
Coleg Sir Gâr in Carmarthenshire is renowned nationally for its excellence in sport and offers a BSc in sports coaching and performance as well as several other degree courses with particular strengths in the fields of art & design and engineering .
For more information about studying at Welsh colleges, visit www.collegeswales.ac.uk
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