While higher education is often spoken about as one of the United Kingdom's greatest attractions, the country's further education programs - which come just before university study in the UK - are among the best in the world and can be a great stepping stone for international students who eventually want to study at university or obtain vocational education.
The UK's style of further education is unique compared to other parts of the world, offering high levels of personal contact with tutors, a focus on independent study skills and opportunities to gain real-world work experience. Further education courses are cheaper than university degrees and scholarships are open to people from all corners of the globe.
We spoke to John Mountford, International Director at the Association of Colleges (AoC), who told us why he wants more international students to be aware of the opportunities presented by further education study in the UK.
Student World: First off, what is the Association of Colleges?
John Mountford: We represent England’s Further Education colleges. We have a supporting role, which involves helping the capacity of the sector to do a good job, to push our members to work together and also we play a promotional role, so we make people more aware about the great work that colleges in the UK are doing.
AoC International Director, John Mountford
SW: Higher education is always talked about as one of the UK’s greatest assets but further education isn't far behind! Why do you think international students should consider studying at college in the UK before setting sights on a university?
JM: You make a good point, there’s huge value in further education and increasingly – as I travel around the world – it’s good quality further education programs that students and partners are looking for.
We do work in India, South America and all over the world. You often find these countries have developing economies – with relatively strong GDP (Gross Domestic Product) compared to some European countries – but what these countries lack is a skilled workforce to further that growth.
It’s through good further education programmes – such as the ones we have in the UK – that we can give students the skills they need to help their countries grow.
SW: On the other side of things, why is it important for the UK to have top-class international students coming here?
JM: Our students are increasingly going from colleges to work in a globalised world and they need to demonstrate an ability to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. If the core purpose of education is to prepare people for work and increasing numbers of jobs require international skills, having the chance to enjoy learning with people from outside the UK is fantastic.
SW: We’ve recently seen a decline in the number of international students coming to study at UK universities. Is it a similar story in UK colleges?
JM: There has been a decline, unfortunately. I think you can almost certainly link that to the government’s student immigration policy as it’s becoming harder in some instances for students to gain visas, which is a shame. We have a world-class education offer and more students need to be able to take advantage of that.
SW: What can be done to change that?
JM: There’s a lot of work to be done to reassure people that the UK is open for international students! Unfortunately, there’s a growing international perception that students aren’t welcome here because of our visa regime.
The government, the British Council and the AoC have a responsibility to let students know that this isn’t the case and we want them here!
SW: What role can the Association of Colleges play in supporting international students who want to come to the UK?
JM: Well, we certainly play an advising role and help put students in touch with the right types of college. We run a quality charter mark – the AoC International Charter – which helps students to identify those colleges that take a very robust approach to quality within their international work.
SW: If you could relive your student experience all over again, where would you go to study in the UK and why?
JM: That’s a good question! This may sound like I’m sitting on the fence a little but I do have a national role and driving around, it never fails to amaze me at how many lovely places there are.
However, I do live in Brighton and it’s a fantastic city so I’d encourage any students who are coming to the UK to explore my home city!
SW: Finally, what’s the first thing that an international student should do when choosing a place to study a foundation course in the UK?
JM: They need to be very quality conscious. Be sure that the college they’re looking to study at is accredited, so make sure you’ll be choosing a genuine provider. They need to make sure that the program they’re doing actually helps them reach their goals and perhaps most importantly, be ready to be a success.
It’s great fun to study abroad but it does demand personal effort and getting stuck in!
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