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English is the language of global expansion

A SCOTTISH college is making inroads into a potentially massive market, thanks to its work with refugees and asylum seekers.

Glasgow College of Food Technology has turned what is normally a tale of unremitting gloom into one of the major success stories of Scottish further education. Today it has 500 full-time English students from 42 countries, a dramatic change for a college which previously had around 1,000 full-time vocational students and 5,000 part-timers. Numbers are capped and it is only allowed to add fee-paying students from its waiting list.

The 29 per cent growth in funded numbers over the past two years is entirely down to the language students. Kitchens and bakeries which served as emergency classrooms in the early days have been converted into purpose-equipped language rooms. And it is all thanks to refugees. The influx into the nearby Sighthill estate created a pressing need for language skills, Susan Wadsworth, the college's international marketing officer, says. "Glasgow City Council turned to us because we are within walking distance of Sighthill."

There are now 21 daytime and three evening groups - refugees prefer day classes as they feel less secure going out at night - with an immense range of proficiencies. Vari Dafters, head of the college's English programme, states: "Some people arrive with no knowledge of the alphabet or phonics and one of the things we found was that there was no material for adults at that level, so we had to develop our own. There are others who need only a little work before they are ready to move into the workforce."

This expansion has led to added interest in other aspects of the college's work. It has 20 students from China, and has received applications from a further 30. They have been attracted by courses in food technology, tourism and hospitality. Ms Wadsworth says: "Tourism and hospitality are important areas for developing countries like China and we think this is potentially a huge market for us. Since January we have also had students from India and Zimbabwe."

But none of this would be possible if the college could not also offer its Chinese recruits intensive full-time English courses. Until two years ago it did not. "All we could offer was an evening class two nights a week. It was always oversubscribed." Ms Wadsworth says.

The overseas students form a map of the world's misery.In the first year the largest groups were Iranians, followed by Afghans and Iraqis. This year there have been more people from the Congo and Mongolia. Ms Dafters points out that sheer variety has its advantages: "Students have to speak to each other in English as it is the one language they all have in common."

It also throws up challenges such as persuading Afghans to join the same class as a former member of the occupying Soviet army, and members of patriarchal societies to accept young female teachers.

And living in Glasgow means that students, whatever their origins, pick up something of the city's distinctive take on English. "Quite a few students, including the Chinese, are likely to come out with a nae bother," Ms Wadsworth says.

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