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Expect the Unexpected

26 August 2015

At the beginning of last year, I joined Alton College as the International Manager. When I arrived, the proposal from the Senior Management Team and Corporation to open the college to international students was a germ of an idea, which has now grown to fruition. We received our approved Tier 4 (a general student visa to study in the UK for students who are age 16 or over) student Sponsor licence from the UK Visas and Immigration section of the Home office in 2014. Stepping into the international education sector is not plain sailing with lots of foreseeable and unforeseeable problems along the way. It takes energy and resources to set up the venture and you’re unlikely to see profits immediately. However, the benefits for the college and the students, both from home and abroad, can be huge. Last September, we welcomed our first two international students from China. They have come to Alton College and thrived in their studies in maths, further maths and physics, and are now going on to study Aeronautical Engineering in Imperial College and Accounting in Durham, respectively. Their grasp of English was good before they arrived and being here has enabled them to greatly improve their language skills. Both students have said they found the English style of teaching and learning to be life changing. For example, they’ve said that rather than just memorising calculations, as they would in China, here they were able to use them in context and actually apply them. The additional benefits of an international programme mean that the UK students studying alongside their international counterparts are able to understand and learn cultural differences. For those colleges who are in the first stages of developing an international strategy, or are still considering it as an option, you need to expect the unexpected. During my last trip to China, for example, I attended the final of a singing competition in a school and ended up singing ‘King of the Road’ on stage! It was fun, but quite nerve-wracking at the time – things happen, you need to be prepared to go with the flow. Our next cohort of international students start in September, and during the welcome process I will be speaking to them about their free time. In China, they don’t have study periods or much time for hobbies – they work in school until late into the evening, so they’ve never had the level of freedom that comes naturally to English students. By understanding the differences, it’s easier to provide support and assistance to them through the whole process. There is no such thing as a normal day in the International Department and being part of a small team means my work can vary greatly. Building relationships across departments at college is critical, so there is plenty of support and advice when needed. Andrew Cox is the International Manager at Alton College.