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City of dreams

A group of bright, keen and ambitious students from Lewisham college in south-east London are off to do six-week paid internships at some of the City's top institutions thanks to an innovative training initiative imported from the United States.

The UK Academy of Finance was launched at the college in May at a glitzy bash attended by many of the City's movers and shakers. Some 45 young people from Lewisham, George Monoux sixth form college in Walthamstow and Guildford college have been picked to pilot the two-year programme. The aim is that they will develop the kind of specialist skills needed to succeed in the financial services sector. They will take courses in banking and credit, financial planning and accountancy alongside AS, A and AVCE-level coursework.

The Academy of Finance chimes with the Government's stated aims for 14 to 19-year-olds. It is providing relevant CV-boosting work experience to young people in the middle of their studies - exactly the type of education business partnership project advocated by Sir Howard Davies.

The 13 Lewisham students seem very focused on forging life-enriching, lucrative careers - and all have ruled out teaching as an option. Samantha Mercedes-Saunders, nearly 18, is taking AS levels in business studies, European studies and sociology. She has her sights set on a career in accountancy. She was surprised and inspired by the number of high-flying women from the City she met at the launch.

" I used to think I'd come up against the glass ceiling - now I realise that anything is possible," .

Aziz Ben-Kmayal, a 23-year-old from Peckham, wants to study a finance-related degree at university followed by a marketing career in international banking, so he's off to the Bank of England for six weeks.

Meanwhile, Moses Mukoyi, 16, who is keen to read politics at university, was impressed by Citibank's trading floors.

He is still considering career options, but is attracted by banking or the idea of setting up his own business. He is interested in "prestige, honour and respect" as well as making money.

Nathaniel Emunah says the academy is giving him "a head start to achieve all I've ever dreamed of - such opportunities come only once in a lifetime. It's opening up opportunities I didn't think I'd get, and is giving me practical insights into the way the City works."

Ruth Silver, principal of Lewisham College, has managed to bring an idea born in the United States to Britain with a little help from her colleagues.

She believes that the scheme is a powerful tool that will help to enable students to raise their sights and realise their ambitions - as well as boosting the knowledge-based economy.

Ms Silver says: "The Academy of Finance offers young people a truly remarkable experience - introducing them to a world of opportunities. I have no doubt that it really will change people's lives. We worked hard to import it."

She also believes that the model is transferable to other disciplines. "It would be good to see an academy of computing or an academy of the performing arts," she adds.

And this might well happen: the UK Career Academy Foundation, conceived to the same template as the Academy of Finance, was also launched at Lewisham in May. This is one market segment in the business and education futures market that looks very much poised for growth.

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