On Her Majesty's service
Royal award for trade for west London college that doubled its overseas student intake in three years
A college in London has won a Queen's Award for Enterprise after more than doubling the number of foreign students it recruits in the past three years.
Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College now claims to have England's largest number of international students, with nearly 2,000 this year compared to a countrywide average of about 170.
The achievement has made it the first college to win a Queen's Award in international trade, given by the Prime Minister's advisory committee for companies that have done most to boost Britain's export business. Previous winners have included Marks and Spencer, Dyson and Aston Martin.
Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, commented: "Queen's Award-winning companies are standard-bearers for the very best of British business. These firms embody the spirit of enterprise and innovation that is so vital to the future of Britain's economy."
The college's income from overseas students has risen from pound;1.65 million in 2005 to pound;4.5 million this year. According to the British Council, its students spend a total of pound;16 million in London each year during their stay. About half the students are from India, the largest market, with Vietnam and China among the other main recruitment grounds. The college also has about 60 students from Iraq.
Catherine Vines, head of international operations at the college, said part of the college's success was that it did not charge overseas students any more than it would receive from the Learning and Skills Council for those born in the UK. She contrasted this approach with that of universities, which often charge high fees.
"If you only view overseas students as income, you won't get them," she said. "Some other colleges just see them as a source of income, but they can be a group of students who increase the achievement of the college overall: they're not here to mess about."
The college obtains other benefits from foreign students, she said. The presence of a large number of international students had allowed the college to keep open courses that might not otherwise have been viable. It has encouraged the development of new courses that have subsequently attracted UK students and has also meant more jobs at the college: the international recruitment team alone has grown from five to 20.
Ms Vines, formerly a recruiter of international students for graduate courses at a university, said college vocational courses were a strong selling point and were a more practical choice for many students than a degree in higher education.
She said: "We really went back to our roots and thought: `Stop competing with universities and do what you're good at.' We can offer students a course they can afford and which will get them a job."
The college's home students also benefit from a more cosmopolitan environment, she said. "It's allowed the college to offer the home students a better experience. Their classroom has become global and they are working with people who, four years ago, they would never have met in college. They are learning about the global economy."
Colleges are competing with institutions in other English-speaking countries for the international market but Ms Vines said that Britain had advantages in that it allowed students to work part- time for 20 hours a week while they were studying and full-time during the holidays.
New rules allowing them to stay on and work for a year after completing their courses also mean that students can earn back the cost of their education.