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HNDs awarded a foothold in booming China

Chinese students are the latest recruits to higher national diploma courses following an agreement signed with the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Lewis Macdonald, Deputy Lifelong Learning Minister, this week visited the country that is expected to be the world's largest education market by 2015 when he opened the SQA's offices in Beijing, its first such presence outside Scotland.

Mr Macdonald said the move would not only extend opportunities for Chinese students but would benefit universities and colleges in attracting new students.

The deal, between the SQA and the Chinese Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE), will see an initial group of 500 students taking HNDs at nine Chinese universities which, like their Scottish equivalents, will give them a head start in being allowed to skip the first two years of degree programmes.

The first HNDs will be in business, computing, hospitality, tourism and finance.

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, described the agreement as "a truly exciting opportunity that many other countries can only dream of". The Scottish Executive hopes it will pay economic as well as educational dividends.

Mr McConnell also sees it as a strand of his "fresh talent" initiative which includes persuading foreign students to stay and work in Scotland after graduation to help arrest the country's population decline.

Anton Colella, the SQA's chief executive, said the link with China was "a tribute to the quality of HNDs, developed and delivered by Scotland's colleges".

The authority anticipates that, if this pilot phase is successful, Scotland will be able to sell qualifications other than HNDs, increase the number of Chinese universities involved and bring more students on board.

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