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Blunkett orders tighter controls

college managers have warned that plans for a register of colleges judged fit to export courses overseas could "kill off" good initiatives.

David Blunkett decided on a tough line after a few colleges muddied Britain's name with exchange programmes that lacked the necessary rigour and quality.

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment has agreed to have an approved list or "quality register" of accredited colleges and private training providers who will be licenced to export courses. Theregister, ready in the autumn, is being drafted by British Training International (BTI), an agency launched by Mr Blunkett.

A report in the January edition of College Manager on British education being exported provoked considerable response.Sixteen colleges with overseas links responded to the report by welcoming the initiative to improve standards, but they all agreed any register should not be an exclusive list.

One manager said: "The majority of colleges areconstantly having to pay for the errors of the few." Another commented: "The list may be well-intentioned but it should no be allowed to kill-off individual initiative." Mike Dixon, of Park College, Eastbourne, said: "Some of us prefer to plough our ownfurrows and, in doing so, have produced very high-quality links with othercountries." (see story, left) Unfortunately, the mistakes of the few have proved too damaging for Mr Blunkett. Anger over the failure of some colleges to ensure high-quality programmes came to a head at the Association of Colleges conference last November. Leaders of a powerful consortium of education and business in South Africa accused British colleges of flirting with international links and using them for "academic tourism".

Khetsi Lehuko, chief director of FE in South Africa, said: "The links we have had so far have not demonstrated any real positive changes in terms of quality of programmes delivered."

BTI is working with the South Africans on contracts and has already signed up 24 colleges. It has received a fillip from a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, consultants, recommending it should be a single contact between colleges andoverseas customers.

Ian Nash

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