I worked with various multinationals, including 17 years at the IT company Xerox, before seeking more altruistic work in the public sector where I was with a hospice charity for six years. An international manager’s job fits my sales and marketing background and working and living abroad and selling internationally is what initially attracted me most. The other bits I have picked up on the way.
Alton College is only in its second year of taking international students for BTECs and A levels so I sometimes have to be a jack of all trades while we make contacts abroad and build up student numbers. I ‘sell’ the college to prospective students and their families on visits to China and online, overseeing applications from initial enquiries to actual arrival at the college. I provide administrative and welfare support to students in the UK. I work closely with the college’s senior management team and ensure all my colleagues are fully aware of the requirements we need to meet.
To be effective in front of a foreign audience, you’ve got to know the courses well and ‘sell’ your college’s strengths. I also have to promote the idea of students living and studying in the UK rather than, say, Australia or the US. I have to demonstrate how A levels and BTEC courses provide a great route into UK universities, and that students from Alton College typically do extremely well (21% of our A level students receive a first-class honours degree at university). It’s also important to highlight the benefits of our different teaching styles to overcome any cultural misgivings. For instance, students in England are encouraged to ask questions in class, whereas in China they are not.
Our first two students, who arrived in September 2014, took AS and A level courses in maths, further maths and physics via a one-year, fast-track programme. They are now studying aeronautical engineering at Imperial College and accounting and finance at Oxford Brookes. Last September, one international student began the fast-track programme while 10 students began two-year A level courses. By 2017 we predict international student numbers will be around 25.
I deal with administrative and welfare-type issues in the run-up to and during the students’ time with us. I recruit ‘homestay’ families to accommodate the students and manage the student/homestay relationship. Sometimes I have contact with parents and need a fair amount of diplomacy and involvement. I liaise with tutors and teachers, manage the expectations of parents and guardians, sort out visas, interview the students by Skype or face-to-face if I am in China – I have made four visits in the past 18 months – and check they have full prior knowledge of their course – many students don’t know what A levels they want to do.
I also provide pastoral care, particularly for a student’s first six weeks in September and October when they are settling in. The students are, after all, only 16 and 17-year-olds, thousands of miles away from home.
I network extensively within the college. The whole operation will only work with everyone on board i.e. the governors, the Principal, senior management team and teaching staff. Students with less than perfect English can change the dynamic in a class so you have to keep everyone in the loop.
Part of the role is managing the students’ welfare and therefore pastoral care. I have had to find last minute homestay accommodation for a student which is not always straightforward. But they have to have somewhere to live! Or, say, a student can’t arrive in time to start the course in September I then have to liaise closely with curriculum colleagues to assess if catching up when they do arrive is an option.
Passion! Working in a charity is very similar to working in a college: most people around you are passionate about what they do, about the college, the students and their subject. In a multinational, that type of passion was never top of my list. But when I started working for a charity, and more recently the college, bingo, there it was, I discovered that same passion, and that makes promoting the college a far easier ‘sell’.
You must also be focused, think outside the square, be a team player but spend time working on your own as well. It helps to want to know and understand other cultures and see things through foreigners’ eyes.
You have got to show you have successfully operated and travelled abroad in your career and worked with other nationalities. You need excellent presentation, interpersonal and diplomatic skills too. It’s about finding the right level to communicate on and sticking to it – you can’t speak to the Principal of a large Chinese high school (through an interpreter) in the same way you speak to a homestay host.
I have a sales and marketing background but another person might have a curriculum and more pastoral background and they could develop the necessary marketing skills. The job could well suit second or third jobbers in their late 20s or early 30s. Or people who have worked in colleges or in a teaching environment but are not teachers. It is not a teaching role
I enjoy promoting the college the most – bringing in students and taking the college offering to new places. It was fantastic to see our first international students achieve the results they needed to go on to a Russel Group university this year. A really good day or few days for me is a trip to Guangzhou or Shanghai speaking to students, representatives and parents in schools and making them realise we are the best college they could choose. I’m planning another visit this May.