Up close and personal with - Emma Meredith
Emma is the newly appointed International Director at the Association of Colleges (AoC). With 14 years’ international education experience in the public, private, higher and further education sectors in England and Scotland, Emma has focused particularly on global markets across MENA, East Asia, Central America and West Africa. In her new role, she is responsible for the AoC’s international activities, strategies, and associated resources, and helping colleges develop international markets by seeking opportunities, identifying partners and showing good practice.
What are the biggest priorities in your new role? What do you expect to be your greatest challenges?
Representing our members on areas of government policy that concern international work is my top priority. The year 2016 was one of significant change both at home and overseas, and I want to negotiate the best outcomes possible for colleges in terms of future policy and opportunities - the sector has so much expertise to offer internationally. The biggest challenge for the AoC's international team will be navigating a clear and steady path for college international activity through a great deal of global uncertainty; for example through the implications of leaving the EU and the changing trade dynamics in countries such as the US. However, change brings not only challenge but also opportunity, and I want our college sector to keep taking a confident and ambitious place in international education.
What do you see as the strengths of UK further education sector? Is internationalisation still a potential area for sector development, and if so, in what manner?
UK FE incorporates a strong network of colleges of different sizes and specialisms across the UK. We are a diverse sector and have strengths in our curriculum, our quality assurance processes and our integration of and support for learners from all backgrounds. Overseas partners who are developing their TVET system want to talk to the UK to know how they can use our best practices and adapt them to their own situation. So I do still see internationalisation as a potential area for sector development, but I think 'internationalisation' will always mean different things to different people. It can mean recruiting more non-UK learners to a UK college so that local students are exposed to different cultures; it can also mean operating student mobility programmes such as Erasmus+; equally, it can mean partnering with an education institution overseas to deliver units from a British qualification to their learners. When it comes to education, I don't think countries will stop wanting to talk to each other or wanting to work with each other. Providing transnational education opportunities for young people and development opportunities for staff working in education will remain important.
For UK colleges interested in establishing international engagements, whether through partnerships or TNE, what factors should they consider when starting out?
I think colleges should first assess what they consider to be their strengths as an institution. For example, are their business, engineering or ESOL programmes particularly strong? What do they have to offer to an overseas partner? Secondly, they should look at how they can support any international activity. For every sale you make, you need good customer service behind it to ensure you secure your next sale. So whether colleges are looking to operate commercially or simply to establish more international partnerships for their staff and students, it’s important to make sure they have a realistic and manageable offer or idea with the resources to support it. Sometimes many resources are not required, but the willingness of colleagues to see projects through and to work with cultures where people behave and think differently is key.
The ELT sector is a big contributor to the UK economy, but is facing competition from destinations across the globe. How can the UK ensure leadership in this area?
English language provision is the one constant within the UK’s education offer. Colleges, universities, specialist language institutions and school-level providers all offer English language education. Membership and representation organisations like the AoC work closely with our counterpart organisations such as English UK to share information and advice and to put forward consistent messages about how critical the ELT sector is to our economy. The quality of our English language education, through kitemarks such as the British Council Accreditation scheme, means we retain our premium position amongst students and agents choosing where to study. However, we need to keep an open and continuous dialogue with government agencies to ensure that overseas students can come and study with us in the home of the English language with as much flexibility as possible.