Andrew Colin: Well it has been a tad longer than a month since
the first edition
of 'Chairman's Chatter' and memories of boating off the Turkish
coast and the summer holidays have long since evaporated. Summer
seems an age ago.
Reflecting on the first edition and despite the passage of time,
it appears that some things haven't changed at all. Everyone is as
busy as ever, with centres operating at record levels of enrolment.
Work is underway to complete the final details before announcing
new partnership transactions, and on top of all of that we are
racing ahead trying to beat enrolment expectations (albeit this
time for January rather than September).
The world economy, the Eurozone in particular, is still moving
towards an inevitable hard landing and talk of the 'lost decade'
abounds - no growth and collapsing employment. Last week's
bad news confirmed what we all suspected - very slim pickings for
young job seekers with record graduate unemployment and over one
million jobless aged 16-24 in the UK. For a lot of us life is
taking a nasty turn for the worse. Each waking day announces itself
with fresh depressing news feeding widespread apprehension and
At INTO we are not immune to systemic risks, be it banking or
sovereign debt default, but I am feeling optimistic. How come? For
colleagues who share with me over 25 years of international
education sector experience, we know and have become accustomed to
volatility and uncertainty. Some of us will remember the Asian
financial crisis in 1997. As the crisis spread, most of Southeast
Asia and Japan saw slumping currencies, devalued stock markets and
other asset prices, and a precipitous rise in private debt. Sound
familiar? At the time, many were convinced that this would be the
end of international student flows from Asia.
In addition to financial crises, over the last few years we've
had to worry about SARS, flesh-eating beetles (remember them?) and
H1N1. While we don't take anything for granted, there is always
something up, somewhere, but rarely does it consume all of the
global market at the same time. The truth is that so far, our
principal markets in East Asia, Middle East, South America and
Central Asia have been largely insulated from the global slow-down
and, closer to home in the UK and the US, declining public funding
has led to more and more universities engaging with us.
But it is not just these macro-economic factors that lead me to
feel optimistic about our prospects, nor the fact that we are
showing signs of outperforming our sector competitors. Certainly,
enrolment levels, progression rates, student satisfaction, and
agent feedback metrics continue to be a source of satisfaction. But
at a more fundamental level I detect a growing belief - no, in fact
a seismic shift - in the understanding of, and interest in, the
transformative power of public/private partnering in the higher
education system generally, and growing appreciation of the
difference between our joint ventures (that build university
capacity) and third party outsourcing in particular. Big university
brands - bigger than ever - are coming to us. Perhaps for the first
time they are now able to undertake evidence-based analysis and are
drawing the appropriate conclusions.
Our performance and our model enable us to deliver better
outcomes to our stakeholders and point the way to brighter futures
for us and our partner institutions as we help them build their
capacity to address the global higher education challenge. We've
moved beyond promoting and introducing a pioneering concept into
the sector. We're demonstrating superior performance to our
competitors but we need to build wider recognition of the
transformative capacity of public/private partnering. Private
investment through INTO joint ventures offers a solution to a
financially constrained public sector, suggesting that imagination
and creativity are perhaps the only critically scarce resource in
So, building on the subject of recognition, and our desire to
spread the word, I offer sincere congratulations to everyone for
your contribution in helping INTO become the only "double"
award-winning organisation at last week's Education Investor
Awards. "Doubly" pleasing was winning in both HE Provider of the
Year and the Exporting Excellence award, demonstrating again what
we all know and understand - that operational success and
delivering on the student experience fuels market strength and
vice-versa. It's wonderful to be recognised for our success by our
Looking at the future, we all acknowledge that our future
security rests on our ability to build active advocacy and
recognition from our stakeholders - be they students, agents,
university partners and staff - for our work and our mission.
Change and global turbulence brings opportunity as well as threat -
our job is to work with our partner universities to ensure we
identify the risks but seize the opportunities.