British Council Regional Director, Education and Society, Wider Europe region
Across Wider Europe, a geographic region that spans Russia and 14 neighboring post-Soviet states, there is a mix of active and frozen conflicts; countries with large youth populations and high unemployment rates, in some cases up to 50%. Alongside this, there is a perception within the region that young people, including graduates, lack the skills and resilience needed to gain employment and play a positive role within society. This is a real issue for governments in the region, their economies, prosperity and security.
Within the region, 16m students are enrolled in over 1,000 Higher Education institutions, very few of which feature in international rankings. The rest, by and large, vary in quality, struggle with international engagement and are not perceived as making significant contributions to the global knowledge economy. Graduate employment levels are below international standards, and there is a lack of robust data collection methodology for analysis at scale. Quality and relevance of teaching also varies, and reform is hindered by inefficiency and, sometimes, corruption. There are few prominent, female leaders. The 16,000 VET schools operate without strategic links to the higher education sector, and there is a general lack of alignment between education systems and labour market needs
The future success of these societies and economies will require young leaders to be inspired and connected, and for young people to have skills for employability and an ability to communicate, reach out and prosper both as individuals and within wider communities.
To support these goals, the British Council has designed and implemented the Creative Spark programme across seven countries in this region. The programme was designed to stimulate entrepreneurship and enterprise skills in the creative economy sector to students, via the development of university partnerships. In the 2018/19 academic year, 38 UK universities are sharing their experience of delivering enterprise into the teaching curriculum, incubating small businesses and running training courses with universities in the region. The second call for partnership grants is currently active, closing on 12 May 2019, and aims to increase the number of partnerships to 50.
The success of the first year of this international higher education partnership programme was built on the evidence-led approach taken at the outset of the programme design phase. The report ‘Driving Creative Enterprise: analysis of UK higher education and partnership potential for Wider Europe’, produced by IFF Research, was a critical part of the process. The report provided evidence of the innovation taking place throughout UK universities in delivering entrepreneurship, together with the latest data evidencing the growth of the creative economy sector.
Prompted by the high level of engagement between UK institutions and those in the region, the British Council are now designing a regional Higher Education and Employability programme which includes working with national education ministries and associated agencies to develop methodologies for measuring graduate outcomes. We are basing the programme design on the UK’s world-leading expertise in gathering data to evidence graduates’ post-study employment outcomes, and to support governments to improve the alignment of skills provision for young people with the requirements of the labour market. The provision of high quality, consistent data will contribute towards understanding and supporting the needs of young people, which in turn will help to increase levels of employment, and therefore create stronger cultural relations with the UK in the long term.