Ghana – through the eyes of a volunteer

“There’s no sugar coating it, cultural differences hit you hard and instantly”

Joe Pearson, Marketing Executive at African Adventures, shares his experience of volunteering in Ghana.

Despite working for a well-established volunteer travel provider, I’m not really a seasoned traveller. In fact, before volunteering in Ghana, I’d never left Europe. Naturally, when I was presented with the opportunity to volunteer at two schools located in Woe, a rural fishing village in South-Eastern Ghana, I eagerly grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Upon arrival, you’re immediately hit by the culture shock. There’s no sugar coating it, cultural differences hit you hard and instantly. Everything is different. Even relatively simple local customs are hard to get to grips with. For example, it’s impolite to use your left hand to gesture or take money. Customs like this present a fun challenge and yet they’re constant reminder of where and who you are.

People wear the most beautiful, colourful clothing and seem unfazed by the poverty that surrounds them on a day-to-day basis. To say that Ghanaians friendly is a huge understatement, I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve felt so welcome.

Despite being one of Africa’s real success stories, evidently Ghana still has some way to go. In Accra, you don’t need to go far to find areas where people live way below the poverty line and struggle to get by on a day-to-day basis. One wrong turning can take you into an area where prostitution is abundant and young men sit drinking by the side of the road with little else to occupy their thoughts and time.

There’s a real contrast between the more beautiful aspects of the country and those that are considerably less savoury. In a way, though, I think this is part of what made the trip so fascinating and eye-opening. Despite some of the blatant and widespread corruption, crime and poverty, there’s an overwhelming sense of positivity that courses through the country’s veins.

Volunteering was the name of the game; it’s why I was there. Our destination was Woe, a beautiful, rural fishing village in the Volta region. Geographically unique, Woe is situated in the middle of the massive Keta lagoon and is also located close to Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world. Woe is where African Adventures partner schools are based, some of which are private while others are government funded. All of them are understaffed, under-resourced in need of basic assistance.

Poverty in Woe is very different from the poverty we saw in Accra. As a small village, there aren’t sprawling slums where thousands go hungry daily. In Woe, people don’t really go hungry. It’s a rural community so if someone is hungry they can quite literally live off the land. It’s not encouraged, but someone could forage for food on neighbouring farms in the most dire of circumstances. The problem is more a lack of opportunity – there’s a real glass ceiling for some of the children. Many of them recognise that they will inevitably end up working in agriculture and thus education is not given the same value that it should be. It’s really telling that so few children remain at school much past the age of 15 or so. It’s a viscous cycle because ‘middle-class’ job opportunities are so few and far between so there is very little wealth creation and thus this lack of opportunities persists. I’d like to think that we are a part of the solution; Jack Freeman, a year 11 volunteer, wrote that “even if it is just a small difference to us, to these kids even a small difference is potentially life-changing”.

“I’m convinced that volunteering gave me a deeper insight into Ghanaian life and allowed me to dig deeper than the average tourist”

I’m convinced that volunteering with African Adventures gave me a deeper insight into Ghanaian life and allowed me to dig deeper than the average tourist. As tourists, we so often mentally separate the places we visit from the struggles faced by resident communities because it is convenient to do so. Volunteering allows you to become one with the community, playing an active part rather than observing from a distance. If you truly want to experience a different way of life and a different culture, do it through volunteering. The experience will utterly consume you, you’ll come back a different person.

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A change for the better: learning outside the classroom

“More students are being offered the opportunity of school expeditions to actually learn what it means to be a global citizen in a hyper-globalised world”

Tom Waugh, Foundation Co-ordinator at African Adventures, extols the virtues of volunteering abroad, and the benefits it can bring to both students and the communities in which they work.

The geography classroom has come a long way since I left school over a decade ago (which really was not that long ago!). More students are being offered the opportunity of school expeditions to not only travel and understand the world we live in, or meet people from different cultures, or even get involved in projects abroad, but actually learn what it means to be a global citizen in a hyper-globalised world.

More students than ever before are also gaining real employable skills from group volunteering trips in Africa; from running their own fundraising campaigns, raising awareness of their travels or fundraising for charitable causes, which is something that we see here at African Adventures all the time. If anything, the rise in social media over the past decade, the numerous charity fundraising websites that are now available and the fact that young adults are becoming ‘cleverer’ with modern technology/communication portals all helps with fundraising and putting the word out there. This is also exactly what a lot of employers look for today. Young workers who use their initiative and find ways to meet objectives and targets.

“More students than ever before are gaining real employable skills from group volunteering trips in Africa”

During the past two years of my working in this sector and volunteering in Ghana, Kenya and Zanzibar with school groups, I have seen students bag-pack in supermarkets, jump out of airplanes, abseil off buildings, and hold disco, quiz and curry nights, to name just a few.

These invaluable skills are not only accessible for the rich or middle-class kids that it seemed to be when I was at school. More students from perceived ‘less well-off’ areas or backgrounds are seizing the opportunity to volunteer now. Not at twenty when I could first afford to travel abroad without my parents and volunteer for long periods of time!

The knock-on effects from students travelling and volunteering abroad also have a massive impact on the children that we work with in project schools in Africa. Aside from the obvious physical work that these student volunteers carry out on building new classrooms, renovating structures or teaching mathematics and English, our student volunteers are also choosing to continue their support of our charitable causes. In essence, student volunteers are seeing the support process all the way through. From meeting the children that are directly benefited through our work to actually propping up and supporting that process by volunteering, fundraising and donating towards the further development of these communities. In some cases, our volunteers even come back for family volunteering trips in Africa. We’re witnesses to a paradigm shift, the concept of the traditional ‘family package holiday’ is also changing and, in my mind, for the better!

“One of the things I love seeing is this breaking down of barriers, the understanding students obtain that despite the different way of life, the different cultures, tastes, sights and smells”

If more of our young adults took up this calling, or were presented with this opportunity, our country’s young adults would be even more fit to live in a constantly globalised world where it is not uncommon to talk to someone across the other side of the world on a daily basis or live next door to someone who fifty years ago would be described as ‘foreign’.
One of the biggest things I love seeing is this breaking down of barriers, the understanding students obtain that despite the different way of life, the different cultures, tastes, sights and smells. We are all the same in this world and we all should continue to promote this way of life, for cultural discoveries at a young age and for the act of giving a helping hand to those in need.

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Is South Asia’s student mobility market set for growth?

“The state of student mobility from South Asia to the UK has been a nearly endless series of bad news since 2011, but green shoots in Bangladesh suggest that the region be set for growth again”

The following is an extract from the British Council’s Education in East Asia – By the Numbers report, ‘Is South Asia’s student mobility market set for growth?’, written by Jeremy Chan, Regional Head of Research and Consultancy, East Asia at the British Council. The British Council’s Services for International Education Marketing (SIEM) team helps UK institutions refine their internationalisation strategies to succeed in East Asia and around the globe. The full report is available to registered members of the British Council website here.

The state of student mobility from South Asia to the UK has been a nearly endless series of bad news since 2011, but green shoots in Bangladesh suggest that the region may have bottomed out and be set for growth again. This rebound comes not a moment too soon – and perhaps two years too late – as South Asia will be the most important growth market for international student mobility for the foreseeable future and has already recorded rapid rises in enrolments in Australia, the US and Canada since 2013. The UK cannot afford to fall any further behind.

“This rebound comes not a moment too soon – and perhaps two years too late – as South Asia will be the most important growth market for international student mobility for the foreseeable future”

For the UK, the South Asia region has made for a wild ride since 2009, when issuance of long-term UK study visas began to surge, only to collapse again two years later. Today, the region issues some 40 per cent fewer visas than it did in 2005, and more than 80 per cent fewer visas than it did at its peak in the middle of 2010. Demand for UK education continues to decline in four of the five countries in the region – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal – albeit at a slowing rate. More encouragingly, strong growth in demand for UK education from Bangladesh in 2014 points to glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel for the region as a whole.

Reasons for (cautious) optimism

It goes without saying that today’s visa applicants are tomorrow’s students, which means that new enrolments from South Asia at UK institutions have almost certainly continued to decline in 2014/15 on the back of falling numbers of applications for UK study visas. However, growth could rebound in time for the 2015/16 cohort, although even in this slightly optimistic scenario, mobility to the UK will return to growth more than two years after the South Asia market began to recover in other major English speaking host destination countries. This suggests that UK market share will not necessarily improve even with a rebound in enrolments – a function of both the severe decline in South Asia’s outbound student mobility market to the UK from 2011-14, as well as the more rapid increase in enrolments from the region in Australia, the US and Canada in recent years.

Indeed, Australia has reported especially strong growth in enrolments from all of South Asia in 2014, while the U.S. and Canada have seen overall increases from the region in 2013/14 – and Bangladesh in particular. The strong growth in enrolments from Bangladesh across all major markets suggests that its outbound student market is indeed growing faster than other countries in South Asia, with the ‘push’ factors for students from Bangladesh perhaps outweighing the ‘pull’ factors in any given host destination country.

“For the UK, in other words, a rebound in Bangladesh may only be a function of a rising tide lifting all boats”

For the UK, in other words, a rebound in Bangladesh may only be a function of a rising tide lifting all boats; UK market share will tell the full story of how the UK education offer stacks up against the competition. On this front, the latest visa application data suggests that the UK continued to lose ground in 2013/14 but may have recovered a bit in 2014/15 – after more than three years of consecutive decline in issuance of new long-term UK study visas to students in Bangladesh, its outbound student market returned to growth in 2014 and has increased at an annual rate of nearly 25 per cent through the first three quarters of 2014, according to data from the Home Office.

Continue reading here.

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Children of the STEM Revolution

“Giving STEM subjects the focus, care, and respect they deserve yields results: a lesson which other schools – always having to divide their attentions – would do well to heed”

Nick Waite, Principal of Bellerbys College Cambridge, writes about investing in STEM and specialisation in higher education.

In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion laid the groundwork for classical mechanics; in 2014, a British scientist helped land a spacecraft on a comet by following these principles. Over hundreds of years, STEM graduates have changed the course of human history – and the scope of what we believe to be possible. In the last few decades alone, it’s led to major advances in cancer treatment, sanitation and sustainable energy research – to say nothing of its impact on technology, which is an essential part of our everyday lives and a major contributor to the economy.

“Over hundreds of years, STEM graduates have changed the course of human history – and the scope of what we believe to be possible”

The reality is that there’s no good argument against investing in STEM subjects: they contribute to the sum of human understanding, they’re in high demand among prospective employers, and they’re big business. So why is there a distinct lack of funding and focus in this area? The consequences are all too clear to see – a report from The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that over 40% of its members had trouble recruiting students from STEM backgrounds, and most don’t expect the situation to improve.

It’s easy to blame this on the academic sector, where pupils are able to choose from a smorgasbord of courses – the majority of which do not fall under the STEM umbrella. Easy, perhaps, but unfair. 98,000 students enrolled on STEM courses last year (an 18% improvement on the figures from 2002/03), and 27 universities got £5m worth of funding from the UK government.

I believe the problem is more deeply-rooted than that. There’s strong evidence that schools aren’t giving the field the care it deserves. Whilst in the US, there has been significant investment from companies to aid STEM education, the pickup in Europe has been less rapid. There needs to be a global consensus on the importance of this subject area which we are currently lacking.

“Whilst in the US, there has been significant investment from companies to aid STEM education, the pickup in Europe has been less rapid”

There is, however, a solution. I’ve worked in the education sector for several years now, but in my role as principal of Bellerbys College Cambridge, I’ve seen for myself that students thrive when they can focus their efforts into courses that are tailored to their strengths and interests. This will broaden and develop their knowledge, as they share ideas with like-minded people. I am referring here to the concept of specialisation in higher education.

We’ve invested considerably in creating a specialised science and engineering programme, and I believe the results speak for themselves: our curriculum of GCSE, A-Level and Foundation courses has attracted a vibrant community of passionate, highly motivated students. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’re located in Cambridge: the famous stomping grounds of scientists like Stephen Hawking and the aforementioned Newton, and home to a robust STEM community – with ample networking opportunities – today.

Higher education holds the key here. Students have developed a deeper understanding of their interests and can now decide which direction to take their education. They also recognise the global issues we currently face and come equipped with the means to help tackle them. STEM subjects can make a vital contribution here. From global technology to enterprise, it will – for better or worse – decide the direction in which humanity will develop. Giving them the focus, care, and respect they deserve yields results: a lesson which other schools – always having to divide their attentions – would do well to heed.

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EUK responds to Swiss currency crisis

“While it’s a worrying time for the Swiss agencies, in our business – and, indeed, in any international business – currency fluctuations are an occupational hazard”

Eddie Byers is Chief Executive of English UK, the UK’s ELT organisation with around 470 members, fully-accredited language-teaching centres in the state and private sector.

The news that some Swiss agencies are apparently attempting to renegotiate commission agreements with partner schools elsewhere in Europe as a result of its soaring currency is raising a few eyebrows here in the UK.

The PIE’s story on the consequences of Switzerland’s unpegging of its franc from the Euro supported some of the stories we’re hearing from English UK members.

As your report explained, the rise in the value of the currency – by up to 15% – has given the Swiss consumer more buying power, which could be good news for language schools around Europe. The unexpected development is the reaction of some Swiss agencies, as they discover a drop in the value of their commission when it is paid in other currencies. Apparently, some agencies are “reaching out to partner schools asking for consideration of the new currency situation.”

While it’s a worrying time for the Swiss agencies, in our business – and, indeed, in any international business – currency fluctuations are an occupational hazard. Clearly, our sector thrives on goodwill and firm partnerships, but it’s hard to recall any event which has led to agencies accepting lower commissions en masse to help out international schools on the wrong end of an exchange rate movement.

“It’s hard to recall any event which has led to agencies accepting lower commissions en masse to help out international schools on the wrong end of an exchange rate movement”

It’s not just exchange rates which can harm profit margins: the vast majority of quality UK language schools have found themselves absorbing some significant rises in costs in recent years.

A few which immediately spring to mind are exchange rates at various times during the global financial crisis, increasing regulation and of course the student visa regime. Each year, our members invest in everything from teachers’ professional development, to new technology, course materials and upgrading the student environment.

“Here in the UK, our members genuinely feel the pain of Swiss agents: we’ve felt it ourselves as currencies wax and wane”

It wouldn’t be surprising if one or two agents were quietly asking to renegotiate with their partner centres: it’s part of the cut and thrust of international businesses. What would be surprising was if there was some wider spread to this, as the PIE story suggests.

Here in the UK, our members genuinely feel the pain of Swiss agents: we’ve felt it ourselves as currencies wax and wane. In good business partnerships, each side understands that life isn’t always easy for the other. But we also understand that exchange rates can go down as well as up, and we hope that agencies’ alarm is short-lived and self-resolving.

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The future of Ireland’s English language industry

“A student’s main question when asking us about Ireland now is ‘Is the school going to close?’ and ‘What guarantee can you give us?’”

Graham Gilligan, Managing Director of Welcome Ireland, writes about how Ireland’s recent spate of private colleges has eroded trust in the market and how the Irish government can work to rebuild trust among prospective international students.

Many people will now be familiar with images from Ireland of shocked students and teachers milling outside a locked college door with a note pinned by management announcing an overnight closure. Students may have paid up to €6,000 for a course which they had barely or not even started. Teachers may have had salaries withheld for weeks, even months.

Ten private colleges, mainly catering to English language students, closed in a period from April to November 2014. 2015 began in similar vein, with the Dublin-based A2Z School of English shutting its doors abruptly last month.

These stories have reverberated throughout the industry, damaging the country’s reputation as a leading destination to learn English. Potential students who were considering work and study in Ireland are very cautious and have now started to look at other ‘safer’ options such as the UK, Malta, the US and Canada.

“Potential students who were considering study in Ireland are very cautious and have started to look at other ‘safer’ options such as the UK, Malta, the US and Canada”

A large question mark

Once, when observing that a school had ACELS (Irish government) accreditation, the student felt at ease and believed that recognition from the government was a sufficient barometer for gauging the trustworthiness of a school. Unfortunately, some of the ‘rogue’ schools that closed down had also had ACELS accreditation, along with professional websites and high-quality brochures. Eden College, the biggest to close, even employed Ireland’s former Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe as its president.

“Eden College, the biggest to close, even employed Ireland’s former Minister for Education as its president”

Because of these recent events, ACELS recognition now does not have any relevancy as it is quite obvious that it does not guarantee quality in all departments of a school, only the academic department at best. This leaves a large question mark over what can be done to instil trust in potential students wishing to work and study in Ireland and how they can feel safe investing in an English language course.

A new government policy, currently on hold for revisions following a High Court challenge, was set to restrict English language study visas to courses accredited by ACELS. The series of closures prompted a move bring in the new Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP), even as some colleges continued to await the outcome of their ACELS applications. This could have had the effect of offering some clarity in the marketplace to non-EU students by weeding out ‘rogue’ schools whose business model was based on low-cost, low-quality one year academic programmes mostly aimed at South American students. However, genuine schools were also feeling the effects of this ‘one size fits all’ approach and the current policy limbo offers only uncertainty. Potential students cannot easily assess what Ireland can offer or which schools they can trust and which they cannot.

Current problems

An on-going and fundamental problem is a lack of regulation and transparency. This results in some schools operating with little or no regulation and the ability to accept course fees with no concrete refund policy or learner protection. There is still no official system in place to assure potential students who want to work and study in Ireland that if a school closes down or their visa is refused, their money will be safe.

“An on-going and fundamental problem is a lack of regulation and transparency”

From an agent point of view there are major distinctions between ‘rogue’ schools and trustworthy EFL colleges in Ireland, but unfortunately it can be difficult to convince a student who is quite understandably wary of all colleges. As an agency that regularly sends students to work and study in Ireland, Welcome Ireland has seen a considerable drop in inquiries and a student’s main question when asking us about Ireland now is “Is the school going to close?” and ” What guarantee can you give us?”

Unfortunately, a large number of ‘rogue’ and visa scam schools still operate. In several cases, they have been quick to re-employ key staff behind the closed schools, though some continue to work in the industry using ‘adjusted’ versions of their names and other means of obscuring their histories.

Such schools may now have an irreparable reputation in such countries as Venezuela and Brazil, but now we see expansive promotional and recruitment campaigns in Europe with flashy websites and low prices aimed at undercutting quality schools but still offering sub-quality courses in questionable premises.

“Such schools may now have an irreparable reputation in such countries as Venezuela and Brazil”

More recently, some schools have also been aggressively targeting Nepalese and Pakistani students for such courses as business management, nursing and accounting. These courses generate more in the short run, potentially allowing a school to ‘haemorrhage’ as much money as possible before closing. Courses may be marketed and promoted before they even exist.

Most people in the industry are aware of these schools and campaigns from such bodies as the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) are doing a fantastic job to advise students to check a school’s credentials and base their choice on pending reforms and prospective inclusion on the ILEP list. However, more needs to be done from the government to offer guarantees to potential students.

The Future

It has been recently reported that there has been a 10% increase in incoming students to Ireland but the future still remains cautious.

An anticipated government ‘quality mark’ for colleges – the International Education Mark – is planned for roll-out from 2016. In the meantime, a government-sponsored or third-party ‘escrow system’ might be the best option to rebuild trust. This would mean that the student could transfer payment for a course to a secure third party or government body with necessary documentation being provided such as proof of payment. The student will then be able to apply for the visa and if granted, the money can then be forwarded to the school, possibly on a drip-feed, month-by-month system, instead of all funds being transferred. If the visa is refused or the school closes down, the money goes directly back to the student, allowing them a means to continue their studies in another English language school.

“In the meantime, a government-sponsored or third-party ‘escrow system’ might be the best option to rebuild trust”

Colleges themselves also need to adapt, develop innovative search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies and be consistent in their marketing and brand campaigns to differentiate themselves from rogue schools. Colleges must also emphasise their strengths such as facilities, range of nationalities, academic departments and generate positive ‘word of mouth’ through testimonials and blogs.

For students who want to work and study in Ireland, only with such steps will they feel confident in the system and choose Ireland as their destination of choice.

www.welcomeireland.ie / www.welcomeireland.eswww.welcomeireland.ru/

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How the UNC shooting demonstrates the value of multiculturalism

“I truly believe that exposure to different cultures and belief systems is what’s going to make this world a peaceful place and stop the kind of hatred, ignorance, and intolerance that led to the murder of Our Three Winners”

Madison Heginbotham is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also the Local Committee President for AIESEC, an international youth-led non-profit that works towards the mission of peace and fulfilment of humankind’s potential by facilitating a global exchange programme and providing practical leadership experiences.

The vigil held at the University of North Carolina in honour of the Chapel Hill shooting victims. Photo: Ever Castro

The vigil held at the University of North Carolina in honour of the Chapel Hill shooting victims. Photo: Ever Castro

I worked backstage of the vigil that was held on the University of North Carolina’s campus the night after three students- Deah, Yusor, and Razan- were killed.

Even though all I did was pass out tissues and keep people from crossing under stanchions, simply being present, in a crowd of thousands, was an indescribable experience. So many community members had gathered to support one another and celebrate the lives of Our Three Winners; you couldn’t see the end of the crowd in either direction. There was just a sea of candlelight that stretched throughout the heart of campus.

“Members of all faiths, nationalities, races, age, and communities came together as one, proving that there really can be beauty in darkness”

As words of courage, peace, and strength passed over the crowd from the family and friends of the victims, I never felt more proud to be a UNC Tar Heel. Members of all faiths, nationalities, races, age, and communities came together as one, proving that there really can be beauty in darkness.

Campus has most definitely felt different since that Tuesday. A mix of both heartbreak and inspiration. Heartbreak: over the lives lost, the hatred and intolerance behind their murder, and the loss felt by all those whose lives had been touched by the victims. Inspiration: from the selfless lives they led, the amazing strength of the family they left behind, and the community’s ability to band together through tragedy.

As a UNC student, I’m shown every day that people of all walks of life can thrive together. Having worked event production for our Student Union, I got to see the beauty of cultural and religious events attended by such a diverse range of students. Most students go to show support of their friends performing or simply to learn more about a culture outside of their own.

“Having internationals in our classes and student organisations brings a new perspective to the world around us”

We also have a high number of students studying abroad here at UNC. Having internationals in our classes and student organisations brings a new perspective to the world around us.

This kind of global mindset and tolerance is why I’m so passionate about the organization I’m a part of, AIESEC. I truly believe that exposure to different cultures and belief systems is what’s going to make this world a peaceful place and stop the kind of hatred, ignorance, and intolerance that led to the murder of Our Three Winners. I truly believe that exchange, cultural immersion, and celebration of our differences is what’s going to prevent anything like this tragedy from happening again.

And that is why I dedicate so much time and effort to AIESEC, and why AIESECers in general are so driven. We know that change starts with people. It doesn’t start with policy changes. It doesn’t start with more laws, or heightened security, or angry fights between cultures and belief systems. It starts with the individuals, with the community, with the mindset that is able to love our differences rather than fear them.

“Change starts with the individuals, with the community, with the mindset that is able to love our differences rather than fear them”

Even in death, the impact of Our Three Winners’ lives continues. Thousands who didn’t even know them in life, including myself, are inspired to carry on their legacy. They are proof that love and kindness, in the end, is stronger than hate. This proof is what has been prevailing on this campus and the campuses in the Raleigh-Durham area.

I’m proud to see that fellow Tar Heels have been focusing on the good of Our Three Winners, rather than the bad of a single man. The voices and hearts from the thousands are speaking louder than the gunshots from one.

 

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President Obama dazzles India to strengthen US-India ties

 “If the US is to continue to innovate, develop and flourish, it needs to not only recruit the brightest and best, but also the bold and the brave”

Adrian Mutton, Founder & CEO of Sannam S4, a company providing market entry and ongoing support services to international universities and skills providers in India, Brazil and China, writes about the recent US India CEO Forum and Business Summit that demonstrated an unprecedented willingness for collaboration in HE.

Adrian-Mutton_wwwWhen new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US in September 2014, he received a rock star welcome. He was greeted by a full house of adoring fans at Madison Square Gardens in New York and President Barack Obama gave the Indian Prime Minister two days of his time to talk about building better US-India ties and to personally show him around Washington, DC.

To return the compliment, President Obama was invited as chief guest to India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26th.

Arriving into New Delhi on Air Force One, as the President stepped off his plane onto the tarmac, he was greeted by Narendra Modi with a bear hug.

“The gesture, broadcast around the world, was a clear affirmation that the two leaders have developed a special personal relationship in a very short space of time”

The gesture, broadcast around the world, was a clear affirmation that the two leaders have developed a special personal relationship in a very short space of time. During the two day visit by President Obama, a nation of 1.3 billion people was gripped with the coverage of his every move, suggesting India’s population has also taken to the US President.

The key agenda points tabled for discussion included nuclear collaboration, climate change, increasing trade flows, visas and IPR protection. Leading up to the visit, a number of HE and skills related topics had also been promoted to both the White House and India’s Ministry for External Affairs (MEA) for discussion.

I was fortunate to have been invited to not only participate in the high level US-India talks at a summit held in New Delhi, hosted by both President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, but I was also delighted to have been asked to provide direct input into President Obama’s briefing. Inputs which were included in his final discussion points with Prime Minister Modi and senior US and Indian business leaders and officials, I later learnt.

My inputs were focused on explaining the type of support US universities, skills providers and mid market companies needed to succeed in India. I highlighted the need for a strong platform which dealt with the red tape, bureaucracy, compliance and tax issues faced by organisations when entering India. I highlighted challenges in recruiting good staff, establishing offices and knowing who to collaborate with locally and how to build sustainable partnerships – and, of course, raised the issue of the many “grey areas” around dual programs, tax on local activities and the now rather stale issues surrounding the foreign education providers bill.

“I highlighted the need for a strong platform which dealt with the red tape, bureaucracy, compliance and tax issues faced by organisations when entering India”

Drawing on case studies of institutions we proudly support at Sannam S4 in India, including the University of Bridgeport, University of South Florida, DeVry and MIT to name a few, I set out the vast opportunities these institutions faced and then detailed the specific challenges that hindered their progress.

Presenting Sannam S4′s LaunchPad model as an example, I explained how a strong local supportive environment can help US universities and skills providers flourish.

The US has made good strides of late with its visa policy and the processing of student applications. Unlike some other countries (no names needed!) recruiting Indian students, the PR surrounding studying in the US is positive and as a result its number of applicants is on the rise. The US recognises that Silicon Valley has been built on the brains of Indian students, the engineers across the US are from towns and villages across the subcontinent and that if the US is to continue to innovate, develop and flourish… and own the intellectual property and the rewards that go with it, it needs to not only recruit the brightest and best, but also the bold and the brave.

The US is not just seeking Indian students to become lawyers and bankers, accountants and actuaries, it is seeking to attract entrepreneurs, innovators and risk takers. This is a clear distinction between the US approach to student recruitment and policies adopted by election sound byte focused politicians from other countries.

“The US recognises that Silicon Valley has been built on the brains of Indian students”

The US has recognised that it is also not just student recruitment that is important to help foster long term ties between the two countries. The US India Educational Foundation (USIEF) in New Delhi, for example, led by its impressive and long term Executive President Adam Grotsky, who has decades of experience in India and a deep understanding of the culture and what makes for strong and sustainable ties between the US and India, is doing a sterling job on educational exchanges of scholars, professionals and students. USIEF has awarded approximately 17,000 Fulbright, Fulbright-Nehru, and other prestigious grants and scholarships in almost every academic discipline to promote long term bilateral ties.

The US administration has been working hard on supporting skills development programmes in India with its community colleges and is leveraging the funds available from the Indian government’s corporate CSR ruling to contribute towards new regional training initiatives.

The increasingly influential US India Business Council (www.usibc.com) has a dedicated education and skills group which is fostering bilateral institutional relationships, particularly those with a commercial interest. With its incoming President Dr. Mukesh Aghi having a particular passion for educational ties between the two countries, I expect to see the USIBC’s focus in this area strengthen.

So after all the razzmatazz of President Obama’s visit, what was achieved on the higher education and skills development front?

Frankly, despite the excitement, the visit was unfortunately short of news grabbing headlines for the sector.

“Despite the excitement, the visit was unfortunately short of news grabbing headlines for the sector”

An exception was confirmation by President Obama that the US is to send 1,000 academics a year to India, something which had been discussed during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the States last year and is not an insignificant initiative.

The central government sponsored Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN)
aims to give Indian students and academics access to 1,000 US faculty per year, to broaden their horizons, exchange ideas and teaching methods and foster new research collaboration and partnerships.

There was no shock announcement regarding the Higher Education Provider Bill (despite some advanced lobbying during Secretary John Kerry’s visit to India earlier in the month), so no foreign owned campuses for now. There was no public discussion regarding India’s powerful University Grants Commission (UGC) and how it governs international partnerships, so nobody in the sector missed anything by not being tuned into the visit.

What was clear, however, was that the visit encouraged an unprecedented willingness for collaboration between the two administrations. A number of key initiatives have been tabled, several of which are taken from Sannam S4′s own contributions, which will now be pursued and monitored over the weeks and months ahead, so despite the lack of headlines, I am positive about what this visit will achieve mid to longer term.

“The visit encouraged an unprecedented willingness for collaboration between the two administrations”

The future of US-India ties for universities and skills providers has strong support from the highest level of both governments. It has the enthusiasm of Indian students, scholars and business leaders and a focus from the Indian administration on addressing red tape and the complexities of operating in the market. Institutions in the US will have no doubt seen the coverage of the visit at home, reminding them of India’s vast potential.

A touch of realism and pragmatism is still needed of course, but I came away from the visit, truly believing that the stage has been set for a new era of US-India collaboration. For many India has been a frustrating market (particularly when compared to China), fraught with the challenges I have highlighted above. However, I expect to see many exciting opportunities develop over the months and years ahead, which, if well supported in India, will bear rich fruits. The bold and the brave, both institutions and students, will likely be rewarded.

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The new destinations for Nigerian students

“Nigerians are traveling further and wider in search of new experiences and better education”

Anthony Ajibosin, CEO of 3AG education agency in Nigeria, writes about why more Nigerians are opting to study abroad and how their destinations of choice are changing.

Nigerians place a high value on education, especially in the last three decades. Studying and gaining a degree is seen as a matter of pride within the family and community. However, the 129 universities in Nigeria cannot cater for the demand of the higher education needs of the more than 15 million people of tertiary school age (or can they?). There has been increase in demand for foreign education, which initially could be attributed to the constant interruption of academic sessions within the Nigeria higher education sector as a result of industrial actions.

But wait a minute – we have about 50 private universities in Nigeria that are not affected by strikes, so why still study abroad? To get a better job? The growing number of working class families, the middle class and the traditional saying ‘the best legacy you can give to a child is education’ has seen to the increase in student mobility: the search for better education, internationally recognised degrees and the ability to become a global player.

“The best legacy you can give to a child is education”

The United Kingdom has always been the destination of choice; this can be linked to historical ties between Nigeria and the UK, distance (6 hours direct flight), world recognition of UK qualifications and, of course, having English as the language of instruction. According to a UNESCO report, over 17,000 Nigerians studied in the UK in 2012, while 6,807 studied in the US, Canada had 2,031 Nigerians and Australia had 398.

Though the UK is still the most popular destination for Nigerians, we are witnessing an increase in the US, Canada and Australia as study destinations. This shift could be attributed to the immigration laws of these countries. The UK as a study destination started experiencing a decline after the withdrawal of the automatic post study work visa. The opportunity for work experience and ability to stay back for a bit in the host countries is enticing to middle class families, according to the UNESCO 2012 report on the Global Flow of Tertiary Level Students: ‘As demand for education rises, mobile students explore new destinations’. So Nigerians are traveling further and wider in search of new experiences and better education.

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Education in East Asia – by the numbers: UK TNE partnerships in China

“There is a large amount of variation between the strengths of the different Chinese partners involved in UK-China TNE programmes, even with the same UK institution”

The following is an extract from the British Council’s Education in East Asia – By the Numbers report, ‘Taking a closer look at the performance of UK universities in forming TNE partnerships in China’, written by Kevin Prest, Senior Analyst at the British Council in China. The British Council’s Services for International Education Marketing (SIEM) team helps UK institutions refine their internationalisation strategies to succeed in East Asia and around the globe. The full report is available to registered members of the British Council website here.

Transnational education is an increasingly important component of UK universities’ international strategies, and it has been widely reported that there are now more international students studying for UK qualifications abroad than there are in the UK. Partnerships with overseas universities are one of the key delivery modes for TNE programmes, and UK universities have been particularly active in establishing these partnerships in China – as of the end of 2014, there were 199 undergraduate level UK-China joint programmes formally approved by the Ministry of Education, excluding joint institutes and branch campuses.

As of the end of 2014, there were 199 undergraduate level UK-China joint programmes formally approved by the Ministry of Education

Focus group research with prospective and current Chinese TNE students shows that the strength of the local partner is one of the most important factors when choosing a TNE programme. Students in both groups see this as at least as important as (and often more important than) the overseas university. It is therefore crucial for universities to choose the right domestic partner for their joint programmes.

While there are many factors for UK universities involved in choosing a local partner, such as location and existing international collaborations, the partner university’s strength in the given subject is certainly one of the most important. However, an analysis of UK universities’ TNE partners in China reveals that there is often a great deal of variation in the subject ranking of local partners.

In the charts and analysis below, Chinese universities’ subject strengths are compared based on the average scores of incoming students in the Gaokao, the university entrance examination taken at the end of senior secondary school. Unlike in the UK, university recruitment in China is based virtually entirely on the results of this examination; places are given to the applicants with the highest scores without considering other factors like extracurricular activities. This makes Gaokao scores a strong indicator of the attractiveness of a course, compared with the same subject at other institutions. This metric is particularly valuable from a recruitment point of view as it shows the real choices students make after considering all factors.

Variation is the rule, not the exception

There is a large amount of variation between the strengths of the different Chinese partners involved in UK-China TNE programmes, even with the same UK institution. It is not uncommon for the same UK university to have several TNE partnerships with different universities in China, including some which are strong in the relevant subject area and others which are much weaker.

The chart below shows the MoE-approved TNE partnerships of one UK institution with six different Chinese partners across a total of 11 different subjects. The scores in this chart represent the subject-specific strength of the Chinese partner institutions on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the university whose incoming students in the relevant subject have the highest Gaokao scores.

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UK university no. 1 and the subject strength of its local partners in China

The difference in the strengths of this university’s various partners is immediately obvious from the above chart. Partner 1 is in the top third of Chinese universities for all five subjects that it partners on, with an overall indexed score of 69.4, while Partners 5 and 6 rank well below the national average among universities teaching these subjects in China. Even within a single subject field such as computer science, one of this UK university’s partners is in the top third of institutions offering this subject in China, while another is in the bottom third. This may lead to difficulties in ensuring not only that the two programmes are of equivalent quality, but that they are seen as such by Chinese students.

For the institution in the above chart, the subject-specific rankings of each of its six partners are broadly consistent—partner 1 is above average in all five subjects, while partners 5 and 6 are well below average across the board. However, the chart below shows that this is not always the case. One of this UK university’s partners—a specialist medical university—is significantly stronger in nursing than it is in other subjects such as pharmaceutical preparation. In general there is greater variation in quality across subjects at lower ranked Chinese universities, which should also factor into the key considerations of UK universities when seeking TNE partnerships in China.

UK university no. 2 and the subject strength of its local partners in China

UK university no. 2 and the subject strength of its local partners in China

Read more…

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