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Shining example of how FE can make a difference to lives

I am delighted that at last the very worthwhile Rawabit project has reached the front page of the British FE press (Iraqi rebels bite the bullet, FE Focus, January 12) and would like to thank you for your support.

It is also timely, being published in the week we have just welcomed a further 15 Iraqi colleagues for another four-week programme of leadership development and work shadowing.

However, given the rather eye-catching headline and opening paragraphs, I should like to assuage any mistaken impression that our FE colleges (or UK funds) are being used in Iraq to retrain former militia. The establishment of the training centre by Najaf College (inspired by its twinning arrangement with Greenwich College) is entirely an Iraqi initiative and we hope one of the many ways in which the Rawabit (Arabic for partnership) project can support our Iraqi FE colleagues in the huge challenges they face.

We also hope that your readers will not be misled by the comment "this extra business for FE is part of the spoils of war". Indeed, the Rawabit project has been running now for three years and at no time has resulted in "business" for our FE colleges or the national partners.

Everything provided by our own FE community until now has been done on a wing and prayer, entirely down to the goodwill and commitment of all the partners over and above the day job, with many college principals and staff putting in hours of their own time and personal hospitality.

We are, therefore, extremely grateful to Bill Rammell, the minister for lifelong learning, and the DfES in finding funds for the direct costs of this year's programme and enabling this important initiative to continue.

That support has, in turn, helped our Iraqi partners to lever in Unesco travel funds to replace earlier pump priming from the British Council. This is the first year in which vocational education in Iraq has received any financial support from the world community.

As your story shows, this project is a shining example of how FE can really make a difference to people's lives. It has also made a huge difference to those involved in the UK. It is both inspirational and humbling. We all have as much to learn from our Iraqi friends as they have from us.

Jo Clough

executive director

international development Rawabit project manager

Centre for Excellence in Leadership

Greycoat Place

London SW1P

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