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Merger helps keep tourism students going places

Britain's leisure and tourism industry is expected to be the first to feel the effects of the merger of two giant vocational and academic exam bodies.

Travel and tourism are among the fastest growing courses in colleges as students seek new routes to industry and university. Enrolments have risen 13-fold from 2,000 to 26,000 a year in the 1990s - the sharpest increase coming with the introduction of general national vocational qualifications.

This month, the Business and Technology Education Council, the main body awarding GNVQs in leisure and tourism, merged with the University of London Examinations and Assessment Council, the biggest A-level provider, in a bid to bring academic and vocational qualifications closer together.

Although teachers have been promised a period of consolidation after frequent alterations to GNVQ specifications, more changes are likely in the longer term.

Michael Knapp, BTEC's operations manager, said much work has already been done on how to mix and match A-levels and GNVQs for more useful qualifications. In future, advanced leisure and tourism students might, for example, take A-level geography and a modern language as well.

Work is also under way to see whether there is an overlap between leisure and tourism and business studies, sports, and PE A-level courses, he said.

"We need to see if by putting different packages together we can get a more rounded offering and produce a student whom the travel or tourism industry thinks is just the person for them."

Some sections of the industry, notably the English Tourist Board, have been sharply critical of the GNVQ as being inadequate preparation for employment. But staff and students at John Ruskin College, Croydon, reject this. The college recently hit the national news when it leased and brought back into public service a disused BR station, which travel and tourism students ran as a business.

Former student Faye Spooner is in no doubt she made the right decision to do an advanced level general national vocational qualification (GNVQ).

Less than two years after completing the leisure and tourism course, Faye, 19, has a Pounds 12,500-a-year job as a business sales consultant with Network SouthCentral - and she loves it. Her ambition is to stay with the company and become a manager.

Faye took the two-year GNVQ course, along with a German for business qualification and sociology A-level, which she failed to complete. When applying for jobs she was dismayed to discover some employers had not even heard of GNVQs, introduced in September 1992, while others were very wary. "I spent the first half of interviews explaining what GNVQs were and how they compared with A-levels," she says.

Despite employers' scepticism, however, Faye feels the GNVQ prepared her well for the world of work.

"My communications and selling skills improved greatly and I gained a good, inside knowledge of the leisure and tourism industry. The course was also great fun and very practical. By comparison, I didn't enjoy the A-level at all. "

Leisure and tourism has rapidly gained popularity at John Ruskin College. Last year, of the 12 students who completed the course, three went to university, three got jobs in the travel industry and two went into leisure.

The previous year, four out of 12 got jobs with Network SouthCentral and Eurostar, two went into other areas of travel, and two are working in hotels.

Ian Lewrey, the college's course leader for advanced leisure and tourism, believes GNVQs are an excellent alternative to A-levels.

"Universities are finding our students' research methods are actually better than those who have pursued A-level courses," he says.

Ann Davey, head of the college's GNVQ faculty, cannot understand the negative attitude of some industrialists.

"I'm totally committed to GNVQs. Things that develop quickly are always greeted with suspicion but employers were asked to contribute to the content of courses and some don't seem to know what they want. We haven't had any problems with universities however," she says.

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