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Expanding horizons of knowledge

'Today Paisley, tomorrow the world' is the dream as distance learning pushes back frontiers, writes Jim McBeth

As national boundaries are leap-frogged by advancing technology, the opportunity to generate income and reinforce the academic reputation of a college is immense.

"Homo zapiens" are out there - a global market of technologically savvy human beings ready and willing to absorb knowledge from a Scottish educational system that still has international cachet.

"If you ask Homo zapiens a question, they go to the internet to answer it,"

says David Dyet, manager of information, communications and learning technologies at Reid Kerr College.

"Ask them to communicate and they e-mail. In short, they zap it!"

He continues: "Think about it in these terms. Can we become the academic equivalent of eBay? Amazon? The answer is yes."

The college has pushed out to new frontiers made possible by the electronic age.

"One of the ways in which the college has gone forward is to find diverse sources that can attract money which can be ploughed back into our domestic set-up," Mr Dyet says.

International strategy and distance learning are inextricably linked, he adds. "When the college was going through a difficult time, we had to find ways, as part of our recovery, to ensure not all our eggs were in one basket.

"Reid Kerr is primarily a community college, but the means to fund that are no longer confined to Renfrewshire. If you can distance-learn from five miles, you can do it across 5,000 miles. As far as I'm concerned, it is Paisley today. Tomorrow? The world."

The college has aggressively marketed itself abroad to become a leader in the field of delivering knowledge to countries starved by lack of development. "Countries such as Libya and Uganda are providing us with the opportunity, but they have been joined by the developing countries of Eastern Europe," Mr Dyet says.

This has led the college to markets as diverse as China and Lithuania. "In some cases, we send staff out to the country to kick things off, reinforce it with distance learning and then go back out to complete the work.

"Language is often the least of our worries. In Libya, for example, it is done in English."

"The Scottish education system still has cachet; it is highly regarded worldwide, perceived to be among the best," he says.

"Universities have long chased foreign students, but it is not something (that) further education colleges have done to any great degree. We made that a reality, scouring the world for opportunities, following the money available from sources such as the European Social Fund.

Mr Dyet believes Reid Kerr is in a pioneering position, but is not complacent. "If you look at the most successful .com companies, they are innovative, they listen and provide what the customer needs. That is where we are."

He claims the strategy is already showing benefits. "I travel abroad to conferences and venues and, previously, people would say: 'Who are you? Where are you from?' Now they know who I am and what we are about. It makes the difference.

"We are also getting calls from other colleges to pick our brains.

"The whole nature of education is changing. Lifestyle changes give people less time at college. The means of delivering knowledge is more diverse.

The tech revolution has allowed it to happen.

"The world is flat, without boundaries, and we have to market ourselves on that basis."

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