Albanians coming to the UK to study

Stuart Nicholson, Principal of Cambridge Centre for Sixth-form Studies
Stuart Nicholson, Principal of Cambridge Centre for Sixth-form Studies

I am writing this article from a hotel in Albania, where I am spending the weekend meeting Albanian teenagers who are ambitious for a British education. Many of them have given me a distinct explanation about why they have this ambition: broadly, they feel that the UK offers a top-quality educational standard, with committed, knowledgeable, well-trained teachers. In British independent schools they identify smaller classes, and the opportunity for extra help that smaller classes make possible. They also talk about Cambridge with a sense of reverence: the Cambridge International examinations, the Cambridge University Press textbooks, the “Cambridge English” that they have learned. Some of the students are already in respected private schools in Albania, but I also spoke to groups from state schools who clearly see a school education in Cambridge as a Rolls-Royce provision while they try to get the best they can from schools whose energetic teachers they nevertheless feel are driving a Reliant Robin system.

When I pressed them for a more detailed explanation, our education system seems to be admired for a host of reasons. The spirit of enquiry and the combination of practical experiments, not just instruction in theory, are elements that present themselves time and again. Unlike so many education systems where learning by rote and regurgitation of facts or repetition of method are the key approach, students are attracted by the idea of investigative learning and collaboration. Our A Level system is also very appealing, with the opportunity of focusing on favourite subjects, and being able to drop those they have never enjoyed!

The standards of our examination system, with its fairness, rigour and incorruptibility is also recognised and admired. I can clearly remember our national abhorrence at the scandal a few years’ ago when bogus language schools were reading out answers to test papers, or permitting substitutes to sit exams on behalf of candidates. Here at CCSS, our examinations officer maintains the most extreme vigilance to ensure practices are scrupulously in line with the highest standards of examination procedure. This is a core part of our own sense of identity, but it is an important part of how others see us too.

A handful of the most articulate youngsters shared not only this general admiration of British education, but a burning desire to study medicine here and they all had eloquent reasons for wishing to do so. Talking to each of them for about 20 minutes, I spotted barely a single error in their spoken English conversation. The only vocabulary where they needed any help was with “small intestine”, “larynx” and “oesophagus” and I suspect they’d immediately have spelt these correctly once I had helped them identify the particular words!

Just like students in Britain who might be applying for a private education, the majority are inevitably from wealthy backgrounds but another striking aspect of their enquiries was about scholarships. To an extent they are wanting to minimise the very considerable cost to their families, but much more strongly was a sense that they wanted to demonstrate that they could compete with the best in the world. They knew that medicine is a fiercely competitive course for British students to get into and they understood that the cap on places for overseas students makes that competition even stiffer. To find a scholarship award on top of that represents a very considerable challenge indeed, but this was accepted cheerfully as something to strive for. It was all cause for thoughtful reflection about the standing of British education, on the calibre of our medical training in the UK, and of course on how we welcome those from overseas into our schools, colleges and universities.

To me, these young people should be hugely welcomed, and I hope that some of them will make Britain their home. Equally, as I said too many of them, they could and should be the people making their own country what they want it to be. Without doubt I felt they have the spirit to make their perceived Reliant Robin become Rolls-Royce.

Where to look next:

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