An FE college is looking to expand from Liverpool to Libya by opening an English language school and new college in the North African country. Less than 18 months after dictator Muammar Gaddafiwas toppled following an eight-month civil war, Liverpool Community College (pictured, left) has begun talks with government officials in Libyan capital Tripoli in a bid to become the first UK college to set up in the country.
This summer it plans to establish an English school in the city - mostly funded by the Libyan government - to equip Libyan learners with the language skills they need to come to Liverpool and continue their studies at the college.
If the project is successful, it could lead to Liverpool opening a British-style FE college in Libya offering Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and other UK qualifications.
College representatives have already travelled to Libya, spending five days in the capital city visiting oil companies and officials from the country's Ministry of Petroleum. Later this month, Libyan delegates will make the return trip to Liverpool to discuss how to move the plans forward.
Liverpool Community College's strategic move into new territory comes after Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw last week repeated his warning that colleges should not focus too much on expansion overseas to the detriment of their provision at home.
Addressing the Commons Education Select Committee last week, Sir Michael told MPs: "Getting principals of colleges to focus on what's important is absolutely critical. They lost their way a bit and focused on capital investment, extending their reach, building programmes, going abroad to attract students and so on.
"All those things are important but equally if not more important is what's happening in the workshop or the classroom. As an eminent ex- principal said to me, `They need to start worrying more about what's happening in Deptford rather than Delhi.'"
But the move to Libya will not be at the expense of learners in Liverpool, the college's head of international development, Denia Kincade, insists. "The Libyan students will bring a strong work ethic, which we hope will inspire the local students with their strong punctuality and commitment," she said.
The college was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2009. Its most recent inspection took place earlier this month but the report has not yet been published.
Ms Kincade said Libyan ministers are keen to improve the English language skills of workers, as well as offering training to unemployed people. "Libya doesn't have any vocational training centres at all," she said. "We hope to be able to replicate FE provision, especially for the burgeoning tourism industry there.
"There is a significant unemployment problem, as many foreign nationals occupy the highly skilled jobs. They (the Libyan government) want to upskill the workforce with HNDs, which are the gold-standard qualification there, to draw up unemployed people from the bottom."
The move into Libya also follows colleges' growing interest in India. Last month the Association of Colleges (AoC) India initiative was launched to address the skills shortage in the country. This week, Prime Minister David Cameron was joined on his visit to India by several FE representatives, including AoC India chair Asha Khemka, principal of Vision West Nottinghamshire College.
During the trip, AoC India signed a memorandum of understanding with the Confederation of Indian Industry to formally establish links between UK colleges and Indian partners in the industrial and training sectors. "The UK FE sector's quality, experience and expertise makes us ideally placed to help meet Indian industry's dynamic aspiration to develop a highly skilled workforce," AoC international director John Mountford said.
Ms Kincade said Liverpool Community College had been forced to draw up plans for its language school due to Libyan nationals struggling to meet the stringent student visa requirements set by the UK Border Agency.
All Libyans are currently entitled to spend a year studying overseas, receiving a monthly stipend from the government to cover their living costs. But Ms Kincade said that many end up going to other English- speaking countries due to the "intractable and frustrating" approach taken by the UK Border Agency. The college hopes that improving Libyans' English skills will help them to gain visas to come to the UK.
Eventually, the college hopes to open a campus in Libya as an Edexcel exam centre offering qualifications at levels 1, 2 and 3.
Ms Kincade said the college delegation was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome it received on its visit to Libya in December. "When we went to Tripoli we found it very pleasant. They were very welcoming and they are pleased to see Europeans as they want to be part of the world again," she said. "Liverpool is a very well-branded city in North Africa - probably only second to London - because of the city's football clubs and its history. Now we want to grow the brand of Liverpool Community College."
Libya doesn't have any vocational training centres at all. We hope to be able to replicate FE provision.
Photo credit: Reuters