Expertise, yes please

British colleges are keen, I hear, to point out that as well as Iraq learning from us in rebuilding its further education system, we are also learning from Iraq.

Certainly the reaction of Iraqi government officials to some of the work going on in the British system is giving us food for thought.

A delegation was recently touring a college when it was invited to look at some of the processes involved in quality improvement. I'm told one of the visitors asked: "Is this about improving the quality of education or just about improving the quality of the paperwork."

It looks like any attempt to export our expertise in red tape isn't going to work.

How things have changed.

The father of a friend of mine was working in India for the BBC many years ago when he found himself needing to seek permission to carry out some recording for a radio broadcast. He went along to the relevant government office only to be told the official he needed to speak to was "a very busy man" and not available. The next day, the same response was obtained.

On the advice of the British foreign office, he returned for a third time with a file full of random paperwork he had collected from his colleagues.

This included expenses claims, letters from family and lots of other stuff which had nothing to do with obtaining permission to film.

As all this was handed over, the man behind the counter smiled gleefully.

"Ah, a file," he said and scurried into the official's office, where he could be overheard exclaiming: "They've got a file!"

Permission to carry out the recording was duly granted.

Of course, before we British are tempted to sneer at Indian bureaucracy, we should remember where they inherited it from.

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