Enticed by another special brew

27th February 2009 at 00:00
Whisky is not the only popular Scottish item in India, where there is also a thirst for college education. Neil Munro reports

India seems an obvious learning market for Scottish colleges to target but, in the high-profile attention being given to other countries such as China, it is easy to overlook its considerable potential.

Scotland's Colleges International has just returned with a group from a number of colleges to sell Scotland's wares in Kolkata and the west Bengal area. A memorandum of understanding was drawn up between SCI and Techno India, a consortium of eight institutes with 45,000 students. This involves joint delivery of programmes, interns from India coming to Scotland to find out more about our education system and possible student exchanges.

Apart from the cultural and colonial links with the UK, it is the size of India which makes it an appealing proposition. The statistics are awesome. West Bengal has 85 million people and, with 20 million, Kolkata is the largest city in India.

Scottish colleges and universities had the best place to showcase what they can offer, at this month's Kolkata Book Fair, which claims to be the world's largest non-trade book fair attracting two million visitors during its 13 days.

The Scotland Pavilion saw 35,000 people enter its door, with questions about studying in Scotland a constant interest. It was not all academic, however. Scotland's appeal was undoubtedly reinforced by the Red Hot Chili Pipers who played two concerts, one attended by more than 3,000 people including 2,000 college and university students.

Ann McKechin, the Scotland Office junior minister, who accompanied the SCI party, said it was important to have consistency and regularity of contact in building links between the two countries, based on "respect and trust".

Already, Indian students form the largest block from overseas in Scottish colleges - 1,400 in 2007. Ms McKechin said India was interested in the relative ease of progression from college to university in Scotland and, with around 3,000 Indian students in Scottish universities, the country is Scotland's second biggest international market for further and higher education.

In her speech at an education seminar in Kolkata, Ms McKechin said that, important as these educational links were, "there is considerable scope for partnerships between colleges and businesses in helping deliver training and skills". She added: "Scottish colleges have a long experience of tailoring skills training specifically to employers' needs."

The minister instanced the possibilities which colleges should exploit to capitalise on traditional Scottish strengths such as golf, tourism, construction, architecture and whisky (another awesome statistic: 11.6 million bottles of whisky from exports of 1.1 billion are consumed in India).

But, talking to The TESS, Ms McKechin urged colleges to take advantage of their expertise in more up-to-date specialisms such as bio-science, social care, marine activities and energy.

She believed the nature of the relationship between India and Scotland was changing, so it would not just be one-way traffic with Indians coming to study here but would involve colleges and universities establishing a presence in India. Adam Smith College is one that already has, setting up an India Office in 2007 which has 13 students.

The FE sector is showing signs of catching up with Scotland's universities by going in to bat for overseas business. It is not just about altruism on either side. The international dimension provides useful revenue for the colleges while, according to Ms McKechin, Scotland is seen as a useful stepping stone into Europe for many Indian businesses.

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