Growing education and skills exports internationally – when is it time to get on the plane?
Posted 30 August 2019
Blog by Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN
I first went to work abroad in Denmark when I was 19 years old. Since then I’ve worked in over 10 countries in Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Middle East. So getting on ‘the plane’ to ‘commute’ for work is not exactly new to me.
In a post-Brexit world, Government is expecting more of us to do just that. The UK Government’s “International Education Strategy global potential, global growth”, published in March 2019 sets out the ambition for the UK increasing its sales of ‘education’ and ‘skills’ products and services in a number of key markets. In this document the Government has identified it wants to grow education exports to £35 billion by 2030. It has prioritised resources to support key geographic regions such as China/Hong Kong, ASEAN, Middle East/North Africa and Latin America.
The UK’s current technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system is subject to much criticism compounded by the fact that it seems every new Secretary of State feels they must at best tinker with it and at worst fundamentally restructure it. That said there is a lot that is good about our system and particularly the people who on a day-to-day basis deliver it. It is very well respected on a global scale. We should not down play just how competent, knowledgeable and experienced are the UK people working in colleges, training providers, universities, awarding and assessment organisations, publishers and equipment suppliers.
BUT, getting into new markets overseas is not an easy thing. Putting an ad in the ‘China Daily’ for students for your courses or qualifications will not work. Neither will be getting on a plane for the first time talking to a few people for a few days and flying back. You will not be coming back with a lucrative contract in your pocket.
Like any major business diversification into new markets, working abroad will take time. Most experienced business commentators will say that breaking into new overseas markets can take 4 to 7 years. It takes determination and patience.
You will need to research the regions, markets and countries who might want to buy from the UK and work out what you think you can offer them, which they will see is beneficial. In this respect you need to appreciate that every region and country will be different. They will not be like the UK and therefore what you offer in the UK is unlikely to work for them. However, an adaption of what you do might.
In the UK we are grouped into types of organisations which fit the UK system such as training providers and awarding bodies. This may not match the needs of another country. For example, a complete turn-key offer of build the centre, do the training and certify the qualifications may be required. Hence consortia and partnership many be the answer.
Challenges the individual country is trying to address can be radically different to that of the UK. In the UK we might be trying to increase the proportion of people with Level 4 and 5 qualifications, in a context of a highly structured skills eco-system. In other parts of the world they may be focusing on getting large numbers of people with no or few skills, possibly illiterate and lacking numeracy, into work in an environment of limited training capability and capacity.
There are also experienced competitors out there. Some of which, like Australians, will see the ASEAN region as ‘home turf’. Other competitors are the Canadians, Singaporeans, Germans, Danes and Swiss, as well as the ILO. They will base their offering on more stable, but perhaps older systems, generally lacking in higher and degree apprenticeship experience.
The Department of International Trade as well as other sector groups such as AoC and AeLP, provide excellent support.
If you are interested in exploring the opportunities abroad talk to people who know, start to do the analysis and planning and only then is it time to book your flights!