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A little piece of Yorkshire in Africa

Martin Whittaker reports on a global connection from a trend-setting college.

It's distance learning, with the emphasis on "distance". Students from Western college in Johannesburg are enrolling on a new course in animal care thousands of miles away in Leeds.

The city's Park Lane college is at the forefront of the trend for global links in FE. These are now being eagerly promoted by the Association of Colleges and the Government, which last year released its international strategy Putting the World into World-Class Education.

Park Lane forged its link with Africa through the Tirisano project, an exchange scheme set up by the British Council to improve management in South African FE.

That project brought a delegation from Western college to Leeds where they were impressed by animal care at Park Lane. The subject is one of its specialisms and it has a new animal centre for training land-based studies students. Western college is in Randfontein, a rural area where many people keep animals.

Park Lane is just recouping the costs of providing the course. College spokesman Ian Bond said the aim was to benefit students on both sides.

"We're not in it to make any money," he said. "We're in it because it's good for our students. A lot of our learners never leave Leeds. We have to try to give our learners an opportunity to understand that the world is a smaller place."

The AoC has developed an international charter for colleges with the British Council to encourage recruitment of foreign students, twinning, exchanges of students and staff, and joint educational projects.

Its last survey of international work found around half of FE colleges are involved with partners in Europe or the wider world, though such links are of varying quality. Park Lane could be a model for others. As well as its South African partner, Park Lane does joint curriculum projects and teacher exchanges with a university and school in China.

Greenwich community college in south-east London is also recognised for its international work. It has been instrumental in a project to twin British colleges their with counterparts in Iraq to help rebuild the country's learning infrastructure.

It has also developed projects linked to the large Ghanaian community in the Greenwich area. For example, it has brought over an artist from Ghana to help teach textiles courses. Students have used links with a school in Ghana to study Fairtrade and the country's cocoa industry.

Geoff Pine, principal of Greenwich college, said: "The basic thing for me in terms of all the international work that we do is very much around the college's mission and vision, and its roots in its own multi-cultural community.

"But it also has a focus on making sure we're producing graduates who have a sense of their role in a global economy."

The TESHSBC Make The Link Awards aim to promote partnerships between UK schools and colleges and those abroad. The awards include a pound;5,000 prize and pound;1,500 runner-up prize for sixth form and FE colleges who build global links. To enter visit www.tes.co.ukmake_the_link awards

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