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College shares skills with Africa

The Birmingham consular office of the Gambia's High Commission is an unassuming place. It is actually a small room off the reception area at City college.

Its part-time occupant is Peter Seazell, a senior manager at the college who has been appointed Honorary Consul General by the Gambian government in recognition of his contribution to the country's vocational education system.

His unpaid title makes him the first port of call in the Midlands for Gambian citizens with passport or visa trouble.

"You might get someone coming in who needs to get home in an emergency and their passport has run out," he says. "I can liaise with the High Commission in London and try to expedite that."

In his official capacity, he has attended the funeral of a local Gambian at the Birmingham central mosque. And when he visits the small West African country, protocol dictates that he pays his compliments to the appropriate government authorities.

When not engaged in consular duties, Peter Seazell is manager of learner finance and international student support at City college.

His links with the Gambia are just one aspect of a range of international work at the college, which is cited as a model of good practice.

Its foreign partnerships include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jamaica, and South Africa as well as Europe and the United States.

Mr Seazell's ties with Africa began a decade ago after he was invited to Guyana in South America to write a report on vocational education. He was subsequently asked to advise the Gambian government on how to improve the skills of its workforce.

The college has since established formal partnerships with colleges there, allowing it to exchange staff and students. It also offers free scholarships to Gambian students so that they can take their skills back to their native country to help its economy.

"We have had Gambians going on to train as teachers, nurses, lawyers, and there's one at medical school at the moment," he says. "And a lot of others have gone back with level 2 and 3 qualifications in a range of subjects like business and IT."

Last year, the college ran a three-day conference in the country's capital Banjul on best practice in technical and vocational education. Mr Seazell also set up a project to pass on the college's surplus IT equipment to education institutions in the Gambia.

"It's important to stress that we don't send them equipment that's no longer useful," he says. "It's not a Third World dump. We talk to them about their needs.

"I think where the Western world has gone wrong is that we have tended to sell what we have got rather than what they need.

"What we are looking to do at City college is to fund vocational education, which has a high impact on that country and will eventually lead to economic independence."

The TES has launched Make the Link - a campaign to encourage schools and colleges to build partnerships abroad. The campaign web page is www.tes.co.ukMake_the_LinkIf you have or know of an innovative international partnership please email us at Make_the_Link@tes.co.uk

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