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Gower College Swansea staff with their winning Beacon Award

Gower College Swansea wins at AoC Beacon Awards 2022/23

Gower College Swansea has won the prestigious ‘The British Council Award for Internationalism’ at The Association of Colleges (AoC), Beacon Awards, which celebrate the best and most innovative practice among UK further education colleges. 

‘The British Council Award for Internationalism’ is acknowledgment of the College’s recognition of the role that it has, not just in developing students’ knowledge and skills, but in developing them as international citizens. Recognising the benefits for them in working with students and institutions, not just in the UK, but across Europe and the world. 

Mark White, Interim Chair of AoC’s Charitable Trust said “The AoC Beacon Awards showcase exactly why colleges are so important to every community and why people value them. This award recognises examples of excellent practical teaching and learning. The work of the winning college shows how important colleges are in providing students with the necessary skills for the real world.”

The Ceremony was held in London on Monday 27 February. Principal Mark Jones, Head of International, Ruth Owen Lewis and Director of Skills & Business Development, Paul Kift were in attendance to collect the award.

“We are all delighted to receive this award in recognition of the excellent work that takes place in this area across the College every day.” says Principal Mark Jones.

“Whether it’s our work with international student recruitment and support, our mobility trips for students and staff, our ESOL provision which has resulted in the College being the first ‘College of Sanctuary’ in Wales, our Kenya Community Education Programme which this year is celebrating its 20th anniversary – all of this work demonstrates our commitment to being an international college.”

The College has a wide portfolio of international activity, including student mobility programmes funded by Erasmus+ and programmes for 2023 funded by the Welsh Government Taith Programme. Currently, the College has approximately 50 full time international students, a range of education partnerships in Europe, Middle East and Asia as well as hundreds of international students attending every year for bespoke short-term study programmes. 

In September 2021, the College launched the innovative International Buddy Scheme, which enables local students to act as mentors to support international students and benefit from sharing their cultural differences.

The College is heavily engaged with the innovative WorldSkills programme. Dubbed the ‘Skills Olympics’, WorldSkills is a biennial, internationally respected competition which rewards excellence in technical disciplines. This competition gives learners like Ben Lewis, an electronics apprentice, the chance to represent the College in an international event, hosted in Shanghai (China) last year.

In August 2021, the College was officially recognised as a College of Sanctuary, the first FE College in Wales to receive such an accolade. It was awarded by City of Sanctuary UK, an organisation that is committed to building a culture of safety, opportunity and welcome, especially for those seeking sanctuary from war and persecution. There are approximately 150 Ukrainian refugees currently studying at the College, mostly in the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) department.

Another example of the College’s international work is the Kenya Community Education Project. For 20 years the College has been building links between their students and those at Madungu Primary School in Western Kenya. The fantastic fundraising efforts of the students mean that these underprivileged young people have opportunities to learn, gain qualifications and enjoy a brighter future. The Project also provides the local students with the chance to travel to Kenya to experience first-hand just how important the fundraising is to the school. 

The College places great emphasis on partnership development. Internationally, they have partnerships with overseas institutions for a variety of activities such as summer/winter school, teacher training and online programmes. Here in Wales, the College work closely with the Welsh Government, Global Wales and the British Council on international development, and locally in Swansea they work in partnership with Swansea County Council on the delivery of English language to asylum seekers and refugees living in Swansea.

The awards were judged by independent assessors by initial anonymous applications to ensure impartiality. Finalist colleges were then subjected to a visit, which allowed the assessors to match the ‘evidence on the ground’ of the initiatives.

The virtual visit to Gower College Swansea took place on 17 January with four assessors. The lead assessor was Marguerite Hogg, Senior Policy Manager at the AoC, with Viktoriia Teliga, Senior Consultant at the British Council, Janet Stevens, Head of Strategic Marketing at the Isle of Wight College, and Ann Holland, International Operations Manager at Burton and South Derbyshire College. A packed schedule was organised to showcase the College’s international activities, with staff and students involved.

 “The whole assessor team was impressed by Gower College Swansea and the depth and breadth of the College’s internationalisation work.” says Marguerite Hogg, Senior Policy Manager at AoC and lead assessor for the internationalism award. “From the 20 years of charity work in Kenya to the integration of international learners into the classroom alongside Welsh learners, from the College of Sanctuary work to the embedding of WorldSkills excellence in the classroom, Gower College was inspirational.”

Ruth Owen Lewis, Head of International, says “It’s such an honour to be presented with this prestigious award! Our aim at Gower College Swansea is to create global citizens with an appreciation of the world at large, and ambition to contribute to a global society.”

Paul Kift, Director of Skills & Business Development, added “To be crowned the leading International UK College is testament to the hard work of my colleagues, our partners and all of our fantastic learners and clients – both in Swansea and overseas. As a result of this award, we will do even more to internationalise the College – which will allow us to continue our work in taking Wales to the world, and bringing the world to Wales.”