A small sixth-form college is integrating 30 Japanese students into its regular classes - and earning itself some welcome extra cash. Simon Midgley reports.
If you want to get ahead, go global. Two years ago, Park College, catering for 850 sixth-formers in Eastbourne, East Sussex, faced financial insecurity. It needed to augment its income to ensure its viability. So it decided on a big promotional drive to recruit students from overseas.
In the past the college attracted only a handful of foreign students, but now it earns pound;200,000 annually from them. Through Hastings College of Arts and Technology, which has a huge contract with the United Arab Emirates, it was already taking in students sub-contracted from Hastings. Then last year the college formed a partnership with a Japanese senior high school to offer 21 students from Kyoto the chance to improve their English language skills and experience a different culture.
Japan regularly sends students wishing to study English to the United States but, unusually, Kyoto Gakuen senior high school has chosen England. The 17-year-old students are spending 30 weeks at Park College working alongside British students studying inA-level, GNVQ and GCSE groups. In addition, they receive language tuition and training in study skills.
For many of the Japanese, the new culture is a great shock. Shoh Haga, aged 17, said life in England is quite different from that at home. The differences in the educational systems struck her most of all. "Japanese education is very strict," she said. "In England we have more freedom. In Japan we have to wear a uniform. Teachers are very friendly in England; in Japan, some teachers are friendly but most teachers are not."
Hitoma Oyabi, also 17, was amused by the cultural differences. "In Japan, every day I take a bath; in England, every day I take a shower. In England, I eat meat and I use a fork and knife but, in Japan, I use chopsticks. In England, I eat greasy food; in Japan, I eat healthy food."
The partnership with Japan developed out of Park's good relationship with a local language school, The Eastbourne Language and Activity Centre. The latter uses the Park's premises in the summer as the venue for short courses for overseas students. The school's Japanese agent, Yoko Otani, originally put Kyoto Gakuen in touch with Park.
In the past three years the college has also attracted up to 20 other overseas students from countries as diverse as Brazil, Hong Kong, Finland, Thailand, USA, Mexico, Russia, Iran, Denmark, Italy, France and Taiwan.
It has not spent large sums of money on expensive advertising overseas or on attending international education fairs. Word of mouth, inexpensive marketing and the recommendations of freelance educational consultants have all played their part. The college has its own website* and has sent its prospectus to many high commissions overseas.
One imperative behind the overseas dive was financial, but the other was educational: Park wanted to encourage international awareness among its own community.
Mike Dixon, the assistant principal, said: "We are a small college and we feel it's important not to grow too big. In our policy statement we talk about having no more than 10 per cent of international students.
"For a lot of students, integration with the mainstream curriculum is quite attractive but it is quite challenging for the members of staff involved who are dealing with their own home students as well.
"Socially integrating with home students is absolutely crucial to the success of any work with international students and crucial to the success of the Japanese project. Where it happens naturally it's really good."
Two Japanese students are playing for the Park's volleyball team, two are playing football and another two have been playing in the band for the big college drama production. One is doing a community sports leader award, which involves teaching children. This is a tremendous achievement for someone whose first language is not English, Mr Dixon points out.
If the project goes well, there is a strong possibility that 30 more Japanese students could be sent to Park College next year. The biggest challenge, Mr Dixon says, is the marked difference between the educational systems of the two nations.
"The big challenge for Japanese students is having a little bit more freedom. Obviously what we are trying to give them to some extent is an experience of British 16 to 19 education where we are giving students a bit more responsibility for their own learning.
"One of the challenges is that they are coming from a high school with a uniform and quite a strict structure. It's really just a case of getting them to accept that they do not need to be directed all the time, that they can take a little bit more responsibility for their own learning. I think that is probably the toughest aspect of the project at the moment."
Mr Dixon believes that Park's strong emphasis on integration is attractive to the Japanese.
"It means that the students are seeing a specialist ESL tutor for a lot of work but they are also coming into contact with quite a lot of other staff because they are being integrated within the curriculum," he explains.
The presence of the Japanese students provides challenges for Park's academic staff in terms of actually teaching them. The college organises awareness training and communication so staff know how to tackle their lessons, but it is a long-term process.
"In our weekly staff bulletin we devoted one item to international work. "We incorporated a series of handy tips and advice about how to teach with international students into your lesson. Thinking about your vocal delivery, the way you use the whiteboard and the extent to which you use hand-outs and things like that."
Park College: www.park-college.ac.uk