Think of famous UK universities and you might think 'Dreaming Spires' or imposing 1900s grandeur. But our great seats of learning aren't all old stone or Victorian brick. We may well lead (and attract) the world in research, but we are also world class in skills: with 402 further education institutions supporting the learning and employability of around 4.8million people in 2011, twice as many as studied at university.
We would be arrogant if we thought the UK had a monopoly on the right answers. German quality, Chinese scale, Italian design, French Grands Projets, Polish IT and logistics - there's a world of skills and expertise for UK young people to go and see, learn from and share back home. So it's really heartening to see from our latest British Council research that 83% of UK young people in Further Education are keen to go abroad to work or study, to learn about new cultures. They are up for making new friends, gaining valuable skills and bringing that experience back into the UK jobs market.
The EU published a study in September that looked at 80,000 people from across the continent who went on the EU funded 'Erasmus' programme. And they say it's clear: if you study or train abroad you will improve your job prospects. Back in the UK, we know employers want young people with international skills and the confidence and competence to understand and work with other nationalities: on the shop floor, in the supply chain and in the shop windows of export.
Looks like everyone stands to be a winner - young people from across the UK want international skills, employers want to hire them and a short investment in time overseas can pay back for an entire life-time. But it isn't happening. Why?
We found that less than 20% of young people in Further Education felt overseas options were fully presented to them. Almost a third said they got no information at all - and half of the respondents were not aware of the good information on overseas opportunities that's already out there. Apply those ratios to all the young people in the further education sector and it could mean that over one and a half million young people didn't get the advice to properly consider and realise their ambitions to get overseas. For an historic trading nation with more international connections than almost any other, there's only one word for that - tragic.
So to join up some dots, the British Council through our Study, Work, Create programme is offering thousands of funded opportunities for young people to go overseas, improve their languages and gain international skills. Today we're launching #takeontheworld, a new campaign from the British Council aimed at young people currently studying for school or HE qualifications in further education colleges.
Running for six weeks, #takeontheworld is designed to inspire UK young people to become more global in their outlook by seeking out and sharing international stories, with the chance of winning an international taster experience. Since this is the YouTube generation, the campaign is centred on YouTube interviews well-known 'Ambassadors' sharing their own international journeys and stories; and offering advice to young people who might find the prospect of working or studying overseas a little daunting. A few of the vloggers include the MD of Spotify, Kanye West's wedding photographer, a GB hockey player, a Coronation Street star, a young explorer and two young alumni of the EU's Erasmus and the British Council's Selector music programmes.
The challenge for young participants is to form their own team (with the help of teachers or youth workers) and go out to find and film their own interviews with people with a great international story to tell. The winning interview, judged with our 'ambassadors' will win a once in a lifetime cultural and creative taster experience in New York designed to equip and inspire them for further international greatness. But winning isn't the only thing there's a how-to film and guide for entering the competition has been specially created to develop the skills of all the participants as well as encouraging them to look at Study, Work, Create.
When I was a nipper, going overseas for a work or life experience was the preserve of a small internationally mobile elite. Today, in a more connected world the barriers are lower and the opportunities are much greater for us all. Everyone working with young people starts from the ambition to help them follow and realise their dreams. And if we can inspire more young people to travel and experience other countries - then there is no limit to what they might achieve; the world truly is their oyster.