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Colleges should look closer to home for ideas

Colleges and policy-makers are overlooking good ideas in the UK in favour of learning from "exotic and distant locations", researchers say.

A study produced for the Learning and Skills Development Agency says more research should focus on how Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England can help each other.

The authors, Delma Byrne and David Raffe, from the University of Edinburgh, said that trying to learn from foreign countries may be hampered by the differences.

"Specific institutions, policies and practices do not transfer well from one country to another," they wrote. "Contextual differences in the education and training systems and their social, economic and cultural environments mean that any given policy will work differently in the country to which it is transplanted."

But the differences between the four countries of the UK are much smaller, so sharing ideas should be easier and more effective.

They said: "While simple policy borrowing may still not be appropriate, the process of policy learning from home international comparisons may be more direct than in the case of other cross-national comparisons."

It was particularly common in England to ignore developments in the home nations in favour of ideas from abroad, they said.

The report is based on a review of further education literature and interviews with 25 people involved in policy-making, academia or international organisations. It calls for a programme of research into the ideas and practices of the four countries of the UK.

The report challenges the Government's emphasis on drawing on ideas from abroad, outlined in its international strategy, Putting the World into World-Class Education.

But a DfES spokesman denied they were overlooking good ideas at home and said colleges were encouraged to look near and far for inspiration.

Jo Clough, international policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said international links were not only a source of good ideas, but also paid for themselves in the recruitment of overseas students. "We did have some stories of junkets in the way and distant past, but ... there's no evidence of that now," she said.

Establishing a UK 'Home International' comparative research programme for post-compulsory learning is available from www.lsda.org.ukpubs

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