Which destination in the UK would students from the Far East choose to come and study and improve their English? Somewhere cosmopolitan you might think, perhaps London or Manchester? The last place you might imagine would be the sheltered Welsh resort of Colwyn Bay.
Yet Coleg Llandrillo on the North Wales coast is successfully selling itself to Vietnamese and Chinese students eager to gain qualifications for entry to British universities. The college has even opened an office in China to aid recruitment. It is also aiming to expand its overseas student market in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
While Chinese students might prefer the bright lights of a Western city, their parents would rather they came somewhere quieter, said Louise Jowett, the college's director of external affairs.
"We try to sell the advantages of North Wales as a place to study," she said. "We market ourselves on the fact that there's no pollution. Parents really like the fact that their daughters and sons are coming to somewhere with clean air and a low crime rate.
"We sell it as being two hours from Manchester. One of the down points is that Chinese students look for Llandrillo college on the map and they can't find it. They have all heard of Manchester but they have never heard of Colwyn Bay."
Coleg Llandrillo at Rhos-on-Sea has nearly 11,000 full-time students and recently achieved the best inspection results ever reported in Wales. It received straight grade ones, the highest possible, in the seven core areas assessed by the Welsh inspectorate Estyn.
The college began promoting itself as a centre for international students over four years ago, investing heavily in an English language unit and an international office, and building a network of host families. It has been successful in attracting students from the Far East - particularly Vietnam.
This year around 30 Vietnamese students enrolled to study English or to take hospitality and catering courses. Llandrillo has Network of Excellence status for catering and hospitality. But its latest push for overseas students has been in China. With the country's economic growth, more affluent families want their children to learn English and have a British university education.
The college has an agreement with an overseas education centre in Changsha to manage its China office and recruit students for the Welsh college. The office's staff have come to Wales for training on the UK education system, advice and guidance and UK visa regulations. Llandrillo has also begun collaborating with Tongshenghu International Experimental school in Changsha in Hunan Province, running a programme to teach A-levels in physics, maths and chemistry to Chinese students. Under the programme they study English and AS levels at their school, and then come over to Coleg Llandrillo to complete their A2 studies. The college also helps them progress on to a degree, either from its own list of higher education programmes, or in partnership with the University of Bangor. The programme is in its first year and currently has 19 Chinese students, though the target is for 50 to join in September. The Welsh college is also training teachers from Tongshenghu school to deliver A-levels in English.
Principals and staff from both institutions have visited their partners.
And in the summer, Chinese students and their teachers will visit North Wales for a month of intensive English language training. Louise Jowett says the international dimension is enriching life at the college. "We have a lot of European people here working in hotels and care homes, but ethnic minorities are very under-represented in North Wales," she said. "It brings a good balance to the college and to the local community."
Gong Yihong, a maths teacher from China, has been training at Coleg Llandrillo for the past four months, learning about our exam system and teaching methods. She says it is good practice for when she begins teaching AS level maths back home. "It is not easy for the Chinese students and the teachers," she said. "Too many things are different between these two countries - language, culture, education system, teaching and learning style.
"Llandrillo college is a really pretty place. It is also a good place to study and I really enjoyed training here. I am going back to China now. I hope I can give my students much more useful information about here and give them much more help before they come here next September."
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