New Frontiers: How to Take Your Awarding Organisation Global

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In an insightful presentation at the recent AO Forum in London, Jenny Patrickson, Managing Director of Active IQ, shared the strategies that underpin Active IQ’s successful international expansion. She emphasised two pivotal elements of their international strategy: a profound understanding of local market needs and the development of strategic partnerships. She further stressed the importance of adapting to local educational cultures and regulatory frameworks, and highlighted that forging alliances with local entities is crucial for successfully integrating into new markets.

Ms Patrickson’s insights for awarding organisations are particularly timely: There is a surging demand for qualifications that are not only internationally recognised but also tailored to meet the specific needs of diverse markets. International expansion is particularly crucial for awarding organisations experiencing stagnation in growth, heightened competition, or difficulties in sustaining growth within their local markets. By expanding into international markets, these organisations can diversify their risks, reducing their dependency on domestic markets and opening up new avenues for growth and development.

What Drives These International Opportunities?

  • Online Testing: Advances in digital technology have streamlined the administration of exams and qualifications online, eliminating geographical barriers and enabling awarding organisations to reach a global audience.
  • Internationalisation: As the talent pool globalises and the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, the demand for universally recognised qualifications grows. This mobility underscores the need for credentials that are valued across borders, enhancing career opportunities worldwide.
  • Brand Leverage: With significant investments already made in building a globally recognised brand, awarding organisations can capitalise on this reputation. Qualifications from certain countries, such as British or Irish accountancy certifications, carry substantial weight internationally, offering a competitive edge in new markets.
  • Skills Shortages: Global shortages in skilled professions present a significant opportunity for awarding organisations. By offering targeted vocational and professional training, these bodies can fill critical gaps in industries such as healthcare, engineering, and technology, meeting urgent global needs.
  • Educational Policy Changes: Shifts in educational policies across countries can create new opportunities for international qualifications. For instance, changes in mandatory qualifications for certain professions or government incentives for upskilling can open up new markets for awarding organisations ready to meet these emerging demands.

Overcoming Common Pitfalls 

As your awarding organisation contemplates global expansion to grow and diversify risk, learning from the experiences of others in the field can be invaluable. Active IQ’s strategic approach highlights the necessity of thorough preparation and adaptation to new markets. Let’s examine some common pitfalls you might encounter during international expansion and discuss effective strategies to overcome them. This insight will ensure that your qualifications are not only compliant but also culturally appropriate and aligned with local market demands, setting the stage for sustainable success.

1. Cultural Misunderstandings in Educational Content

Educational content and teaching methodologies may not translate well across cultures due to differing educational values or pedagogical approaches. For example, an awarding organisation from the UK may develop a curriculum based on self-directed learning, which is then offered in a market like South Korea, where educational systems heavily favour structured and teacher-led learning. This mismatch could lead to low enrolment and engagement rates among students who feel unprepared for this style of learning.

Prevention Strategy: Before launching in a new market, conduct educational focus groups and pilot programs with local students and educators to gauge the reception of teaching methodologies and curriculum structure. Incorporating feedback into course design can ensure that the content aligns with local educational practices and student expectations.

2. Regulatory Hurdles

Complying with local education regulations and obtaining necessary accreditations can be challenging, as these may vary greatly between regions. For example, an awarding organisation may seek to offer a new finance certification in France but finds that their standard examination format does not comply with French educational norms that require specific types of assessment methodologies.

Prevention Strategy: Engage with local education consultants and legal experts early in the planning phase to understand specific regulatory requirements. Consider forming a joint venture or partnership with a local education provider who can navigate the accreditation process and ensure that all aspects of the qualification meet local standards.

3. Misalignment of Qualifications with Local Market Needs 

Qualifications might not meet local industry needs or job market demands, reducing their relevance and attractiveness to potential candidates. This may be the case when introducing a series of hospitality management courses in a region where there is an oversupply of such qualifications and a lack of demand in the job market, leading to poor uptake.

Prevention Strategy: Conduct comprehensive market analysis to understand the specific skills gaps and employment trends in the target market. Collaborate with local industries and sector skills councils to tailor qualifications that are in high demand and provide clear career pathways for graduates.

4. Logistical Challenges in Examination Delivery

Setting up examination centres and ensuring consistent quality in delivery across different regions can be difficult. For example, you may face challenges in maintaining the integrity and security of your examinations in remote areas due to a lack of reliable local infrastructure and trained personnel.

Prevention Strategy: Develop a flexible examination framework that can adapt to different logistical realities, including online proctored exams where appropriate. Partner with established local educational institutions to use their facilities and expertise in examination delivery.

By addressing these specific challenges with targeted strategies, awarding organisations can enhance their international expansion efforts, ensuring that their qualifications are not only compliant and culturally appropriate but also aligned with local market demands and capable of achieving sustainable success.

5. Geopolitical Risk and Regional Instability

Expanding into regions with high geopolitical risks or instability can impact operations unpredictably, affecting everything from market entry to ongoing educational delivery. For example, for example, if you’re planning to launch programmes in a country experiencing political unrest, you may face sudden changes in government, disruptions in local infrastructure, or even sanctions that can halt your operations.

Prevention Strategy: Conduct a thorough geopolitical risk assessment before entering new markets. Establish contingency plans that include flexible course delivery options, such as online learning, to continue education during unstable periods. Building relationships with local partners who understand the political landscape can also provide insights and help navigate sudden changes.

For awarding organisations considering international expansion, a deep understanding of local market demands and the development of strategic partnerships are crucial. These elements enable organisations to navigate common challenges such as cultural misunderstandings, regulatory complexities, and geopolitical risks effectively. Embracing this approach helps diversify operational risks and taps into the growing global demand for tailored, internationally recognised qualifications, setting the stage for sustainable growth.

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Dani van Weert
Cirrus' Marketing Specialist Dani is interested in how we can make technological advances work for us, to improve education and make it more accessible.
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